Intuitive Eating for Parents: Nurturing Healthy Habits in Children.

Embracing Intuitive Eating: A Guide for Parents

In a world bombarded with fad diets and conflicting nutritional advice, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple pleasure of eating intuitively. But what exactly does intuitive eating entail, and how can we as parents impart these principles to our children?

Intuitive eating is a philosophy that encourages individuals to trust their bodies’ natural cues for hunger and fullness. It emphasizes mindfulness, self-compassion, and the rejection of diet culture. Rather than adhering to strict meal plans or calorie counting, intuitive eaters listen to their bodies, eat when hungry, and stop when satisfied.

As parents, we play a crucial role in shaping our children’s relationship with food. By promoting intuitive eating, we can help our children develop lifelong healthy attitudes towards food and their bodies. Jess Willow from Willow Nutrition kindly put this blog post together. As well as being an intuitive eating counsellor, Jess is a Registered Dietitian specialising in fertility nutrition, helping men and women to optimise their chances of pregnancy.

What exactly is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is defined as ‘a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought’. It was originally created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in California in 1995 and has been steadily gaining momentum since its inception. It adopts a flexible eating style and encourages us to tune into our internal signals guiding us on what, when and how much to eat rather than following specific food rules, diets and restrictions. There have been over 160 published papers to date supporting the role of intuitive eating from a physical and psychological perspective. With research in adults and
also now, in children. Some of the benefits of Intuitive eating include;

  • Improved lipid profile (increase in the ‘good’ fats and lower ‘bad’ fats)
  • Reduced rates of disordered eating and eating disorders
  • Better body image and self-esteem
  • Lower rates of emotional eating Lower frequency of weight cycling

Can parents encourage intuitive eating in their children?

For so many parents it feels confusing to know how to raise an intuitive eater, even I, as a dietitian, intuitive eating counsellor and mum of one often has to think about how I am supporting my son’s relationship with food. Unfortunately we are not given a handbook telling us what to do when we become parents. We have to figure it out ourselves. Navigating through feeding and nurturing our children is a common challenge that most of us face. All of us are born intuitive eaters. It is however what we learn as we grow that can dysregulate our ability to listen to our bodies, adopt food rules and engrain negative thoughts about how we see our bodies. I work with many women and men to start reversing these learned behaviours. We use the evidence based intuitive eating framework which teaches us how to listen to our bodies and implement self-compassion which may have become a distant memory (if a memory at all)!

4 tips for Raising Intuitive Eaters

  1. First and foremost, it’s essential to model positive behaviors ourselves. Children learn by example, so demonstrating a healthy relationship with food sets the foundation for their own habits. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and instead focus on balance and moderation.
  2. Offer a variety of foods and allow children to make their own choices. Encourage them to listen to their bodies and eat according to hunger and fullness cues. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment, as this can lead to emotional eating patterns.
  3. Create a peaceful eating environment free from distractions like screens or stressful conversations. Sit down together as a family for meals whenever possible, and use this time to connect and enjoy each other’s company.
  4. Finally, be patient and compassionate. It takes time for children to develop their intuitive eating skills, and there will inevitably be bumps along the way. Encourage them to trust themselves and remind them that all foods can fit into a balanced diet.

Want to learn more?

Helping our children develop their own skills to become competent eaters is ultimately what we want to achieve. Working with a dietitian and intuitive eating counsellor to help support you to work on your relationship with food first is a really good place to start.

We are running a webinar on Growing Intuitive Eaters for parents of children of all ages, you can learn more here.

Connect with me on Linkedin here and view our latest courses here.