What is Intuitive Eating?

Two Registered Dietitians developed the principles of intuitive eating, Evelyn Tribole, and Elyse Resch published in 1995. The principles were based on evidence from hundreds of studies and clinical dietetic experience. With the publishing of these principles, there is robust evidence to support the benefits of intuitive eating and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Intuitive eating as “a self-care eating framework where you are the expert on your body”.

As parents, we want our children to live a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. Raising intuitive eaters can contribute to this.

When you are eating with your child, do you notice when your child decides when they have enough to eat? How do you react? Do you encourage your child to eat more?

If your child eats when they are hungry and stops eating when they feel full, this is called intuitive eating. Their brain is in tune with their tongue and stomach. They recognise what foods they enjoy and rely on internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when and how much they eat.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your child could retain the skills to eat intuitively? Let us discuss what we can do as parents to help raise intuitive eaters.

Prevention

Think right back to your newborn. Were you able to distinguish between the sleepy cry, poonamie cry, or the most recognizable of all, the hunger cry? I am sure you don’t need me to remind you how the cry escalated into screams until the boob or bottle was offered. Then, when the child was full and satisfied, they would close their lips, turn their head and fall asleep.

This learning relationship that occurs with feeding on demand supports intuitive eating. When a child is hungry, communicates this feeling, and is fed in response, they learn that this is a natural and normal feeling. Conversely, suppose the hunger signals are not responded to. In that case, the child is at risk of ignoring the hunger cues and loses the connection between the feeling of hunger and food. As a result, children who experience this during infancy may develop a tendency to eat beyond fullness when food is available. On the flip side of this, if a child is fed on a strict schedule and encouraged to eat in the absence of hunger or persuaded to eat more than they need, they may refuse or restrict food.

Feeding on demand, identifying the cues, and trusting your child’s ability to recognize hunger and satiety are the key steps to retain intuitive eating.

Weaning

When did you start weaning your baby? Did you aim to start weaning at a particular time point? Or did you start when you noticed the signs of readiness? I explore the best time to start weaning in Weaning Masterclass.

Baby-led weaning is essentially intuitive eating for babies but spoon fed babies can be fed using the same principles. The infant directs their eating journey from instinct rather than being led by parents. As a result, the baby learns to trust internal hunger and satiety cues, protecting their intuitive eating skills.

Here is a short guide to baby-led weaning as published by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch:

1. Intend on giving your child a sense of autonomy and freedom in their relationship with food for a lifetime.

2. Your baby’s digestive system should be ready to start baby-led weaning by six months of age. Look for signs of readiness to wean your baby, but weaning should not be delayed past six months of age. Begin with spoon-fed weaning if your baby shows readiness to start weaning before six months of age and transition to baby-led from six months onwards.

3. Honour your baby’s cues that they are ready to start eating solids. Your baby will begin to grab food and put it in their mouth.

4. Share meals with your baby to enhance social skills. In turn, this will help to develop an increased sense of confidence and independence.

5. Babies will prefer finger foods when it comes to feeding themselves. It allows the child to detect the taste better, makes it easier to chew, and spits out what they don’t like or want.

6. Babies who eat with their hands have much more fun than when spoon-fed. It encourages a sensory experience as they touch, taste, and smells the food.

7. Widening the family’s range of food will benefit your baby and your family. Babies love to copy their parents and siblings. Offering various foods will allow your baby to experiment with a diversity of nutritious eating.

8. Eat together as a family as much as you can – focus on the conversation and experience of the meal not just what is eaten!

Remember, your role is to prepare and provide the food as a parent while the baby is responsible for eating as much or as little as they need.

We will be discussing our personal and professional experiences about feeding a family intuitively from the child and adult perspectives.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Cathy

References

Tribole, E. and Resch, E., 2020. Intuitive eating, 4th edition. [S.l.]: St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

Satter, E. and Sharkey, P., 2002. Ellyn Satter’s nutrition and feeding for infants and children. Madison, Wis.: Ellyn Satter Associates.