Clean Your Plate


This is the second post in a series expanding on 20 Things I Learned from My Toddler.

Always clean your plate, but don’t overeat. When you are full, dump the rest of the food on the table and spread it around.

Many of us were taught as children that we should always clean our plates. In doing so, we have learned to regulate the amount of food we eat based on external conditions rather than by listening to our bodies. This habit often leads to overeating and attempts to count calories in order to eat healthy.

The problem with counting calories or any other attempts to measure our food intake is that it is a habit that few of us are able to maintain for any significant length of time, and it ignores our body’s internal ability to regulate itself. We tend to lose the ability to determine whether we are hungry, satisfied or stuffed when we stop listening to our bodies.

Small children still have this ability. They do tend to get sidetracked by toys, animals, candy, music, etc., but for the most part, when a toddler is satisfied, they no longer have the desire to eat. The older they get, the more prone to overeating they become.

Why Do We Ignore Our Bodies?

Food is a joy. In my attempts to eat healthy, I have often been asked how I find joy in life if I don’t allow myself the simple pleasures of unhealthy foods. My response is that if the greatest joy in life is an overabundance of chocolate cake that leaves me feeling sick, then my life must really suck.

The fact is, the times when I am most unhappy with my life are the times I find it most difficult to listen to my body. Children generally do not find themselves unhappy with life the way we grown-ups do. They live in the moment and get excited about family, friends, toys, dancing, puppies and squishing mashed potatoes between their fingers.

The lesson we can learn from toddlers is that when we find joy and excitement in the little things in life, we don’t have to rely solely on food (or alcohol, shopping, video games, etc.) to give us joy.