Research conducted with 18-month-old to 5-year-old children showed that young kids can balance calories to energy needs. Scientists came to the conclusion by monitoring the food consumed by children at a university lab/daycare facility.
The children were put into two groups. One group was offered a snack of whole yogurt. The other group was served the same volume of non-fat, reduced-calorie yogurt. This was called a preload and fed to them as a midmorning snack. Both groups were served identical lunches.
When the children finished their meal, their trays were collected and the uneaten food was analyzed on each individual tray. The results: Children who were fed the higher calorie preload consistently ate less at lunch. Children who were fed the reduced calorie preload consistently ate more at lunch.
Other studies with these children yielded interesting results:
(1) When kids were given free choice to eat what they wanted for meals and snacks, they tended to balance their nutrients over the course of the week.
(2) When they routinely found a snack in their cubbies many ignored it. When the same snack was placed in a bowl and they were told they may not eat it, they were fiends over that same snack!
(3) Both groups were fed a meal, but children in one of the groups were not allowed “unhealthy sweets.” After the meal two trays were brought out and placed on the table. On one tray was a variety of sweet treats and on the other tray was a combination of art supplies (paper, paint, crayons, and clay) The kids who regularly were allowed treats ignored the cakes and went for the art supplies. The kids not allowed to eat treats went straight for the desserts – some ate so much they literally made themselves sick.
What does that tell us? It appears that we were born recognizing our energy needs and ate accordingly. It tells us that we once had the ability to self-monitor balance and moderation. It also tells us that we become conditioned to ignore the signals that tell us to stop eating.
What should we do with this information?
Well, I think that’s up to each one of us. I’ll tell you what I did with this information.
I decided I wanted to restore this natural energy needs balance. I would trust my body to recognize satiety. I would chose my food carefully for the pleasure it gave me. I was done selecting food based on more volume for fewer calories. I wanted to savor every morsel of every meal and snack. I would eat without guilt. I would eat with gusto!
I can’t say that I don’t ever overeat. Conditioning is a strong driver of behavior. It’s not easy to reverse years of conditioning. Actions triggered by conditioning feel as real as instincts. It’s hard to know the difference.
My position as general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine sets me up for scrutiny. People watch me to see what I eat, when I eat, and how much I eat. Many feel obligated to comment.
“Oh! look at you being good eating a salad?”
“Don’t worry, (wink) I won’t tell anybody you are eating that prime rib!”
“Is that your secret? You never clean your plate?”
“I can’t believe you’re eating all those carbs! All that unhealthy while stuff – flour and sugar will kill you! I thought Weight Watchers teaches you how to “eat healthy!*”
I don’t let the comments make me feel guilty and I don’t let them make me feel superior.
* EAT HEALTHY! Every time I hear somebody use this peculiar phrase I think, “how can you teach me to eat healthy?” If I am “healthy” and I am “eating,” am I not “eating healthy?” What’s there to teach?