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I love watching kids; they can teach us so much about eating and effortless weight management. For example, during a birthday party they are just as excited about the activities as they are about the food. Don't get me wrong; they love treats but food is only part of the experience.

Children have many other natural behaviors that can teach us adults how to love food – but not too much. Here are some of the important lessons I've learned from watching them:  

Eat when you're hungry.  From the time they're born, babies and young children know when and how much they need to eat—and they cry to let us know too. As they grow, this important instinct can be un-learned so by the time they're adults, they may have learned to eat for many other reasons besides hunger: mealtimes, tempting food, stress, anger, boredom, deprivation and countless other triggers. By recognizing the difference between needing to eat and wanting to eat, adults can re-learn when and how much to eat too.

Stop eating when you're full.  An infant will turn their head away when they've had enough to eat, and a toddler will throw a plate of food on the floor when they're done.  But as adults, we clean our plates because "there are starving children" somewhere or just because something tastes good. I'm not suggesting that we start throwing our plates on the floor again, but we need to remember that food is abundant in our society so there's no need to eat it all now.

Being hungry makes you grouchy.  Being hungry, tired, or frustrated are sure to make a child crabby—and affect adults the same way. As parents, we need to do our best to make sure we are prepared with nutritious, delicious food to feed our children when they're hungry. We should care for ourselves that way too.

Snacks are good.  Kids naturally prefer to eat smaller meals with snacks in between whenever they get hungry. That pattern of eating keeps their energy up and their metabolism stoked all day. Adults who need to fire up their energy and metabolism might benefit from this pattern too.

Next time, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned from kids about nutrition.

Michelle May MD
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