Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Is it lunchtime yet?

I was in the supermarket the other day when I witnessed a scene that reminded me of the importance of eating when we are hungry. A teenager was trailing after her mother down the aisles clutching a bag of bagels, asking if she could eat one. Her mother turned round and said: "It's only 11 o'clock! If you have it now you won't be hungry for lunch," to which the girl replied "But I'm hungry NOW! I don't want to wait for lunch!" Her mother tutted and said crossly, "Don't be silly, you had breakfast hardly and hour ago. You can't be hungry! What's wrong with you!?"

At this point I'm tempted to go into rant mode and talk about how the mother's response will shape her daughter's relationship with food. This is a young woman who is being told she can't trust herself to interpret the most basic of physiological signals: being hungry, like being sleepy and needing to wee are signals that human beings learn to recognize way before they learn to talk.  Worse, she is being shamed (in public) for being hungry - there's something wrong with her - you can guarantee she'll always feel self conscious about being hungry in public - much better to eat alone, where no-one can comment.  A future Beyond Chocolater, for sure! 

But I didn't want this post to be a rant about how mothers unthinkingly contribute to distorting their children's relationship with food and undermine their self confidence. This post is about just how crucial the "eat when you are hungry" principle is.

Unlike some of the other more 'exciting' principles, 'Eat when you are hungry' is not very glamourous and it's tempting skip it in favour of the more "whoa!" ones. And yet, eating when  you are hungry lies at the heart of the Beyond Chocolate approach. Lots of people put our book down and run out to stock up on dozens of chocolate bars and fill giant tupperwares with crisps. Some delight in setting the table with pretty plates and and scented candles and eating exactly what they fancy, enjoying every mouthful. Others have gone on a wardrobe rampage and have a ball throwing out all their 'fat' clothes. You can do all these things and if you are not hungry when you eat and you eat when you are not hungry, you will be missing out on a life changing principle.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, have a healthier diet or to stop overeating, eating when you are hungry can make a huge difference to the outcome. Of course, it's not as easy as it sounds. If we all knew how to eat when we were hungry (and many more of us might if we hadn't grown up with messages like the teenager in the supermarket)  that's what we'd be doing.  Of course, it's not the only action that you will need to take to get where you are going: somewhere along the line you will have to address the issues that drive your emotional eating, you will  have to make decisions about what foods have a place (and which don't) in your ideal of a healthy diet and how that fits in with the way you actually eat. You will have to explore your relationship with your body: how you treat it, what you expect of it, what weight-loss represents and how your weight and size shapes your life. These are all equally fundamental steps in transforming our relationship with food and our bodies. And they are complex and can be something of a 2 steps forward, 1 step back thing.

Eating when you are hungry, in comparison, is relatively straightforward to get the hang of.  It's a set of skills that need to be learned and then practiced regularly. And the good news is that the more regularly you practice it, the more natural it becomes. And when you eat when you are hungry - more often than not - you are more likely to lose weight, have a healthier diet and be overeating less.

Do you eat when you are hungry? Are you hungry when you eat? Do you know how what hunger feels like in your body? What messages and beliefs do you have about hunger? About waiting till lunchtime? 

I'll be talking about how to create your own hunger scale and how to put this principle into practice, on Monday 20th June at 8.30pm in a live telephone Masterclass dedicated to the principle Eat when you are hungry. I will be explaining more about how this principle works and inviting participants to experience it first hand and create a plan to put it all into action.

Beyond Chocolate members and e-course participants will automatically be invited to take part in the Masterclass.  You can also take part by booking a place for £10.

I can't figure out how make the the pretty pink telephone below clickable, so you'll have to click here for more information and to book your place on the Masterclass. But I'm keeping the phone anyway because I think it rocks.


  1. This is so judgemental! My youngest child is a terror for not eating his meals, but choosing to snack on junk all day instead. It's got to the point where I have decided that I need to be stricter and more structured with his meals, for the sake of him getting some decent nutrition. If I don't he'll just eat chocolate, sweets, crisps, biscuits, then feel too full to eat the more nutritious meal I've made for him. So, if my child was trying to break open a snack in the supermarket when it's not far off the time I'd offer him a meal, I too would tell him to wait, or he'll spoil his lunch. Seems you would judge me for that! Be more tolerant of other people trying to do the best for their children. There are many nutritionists out there (David Kessler for example) who insist that some structure to mealtimes is a good thing ...

  2. I recall reading a study into very young children's eating habits. These children were allowed unrestricted access to a plentiful supply of different kinds of foods - everything from so-called junk food to brocolli spears. It was found that the choices they made, intuitively, over the long-term actually balanced out into what would be considered a healthy eating plan . . .

  3. I've got 2 kids. The eldest had structured meals, and guidance on healthy choices. He's a great eater, and now has learnt to tell me when he's had enough etc (I tell him to listen to his tummy). My 2nd I did differently having discovered Beyond Chocolate. I let him tell me when he's hungry and what he wants. He's turned into the pickiest, fussiest eater of the two of them, wanting to snack constantly on food with zero nutrition to it, then won't his meals! I can only go by my experience, not what some study says .... Just to be clear, I love Beyond Chocolate, but I think being mindful of hunger and satisfaction is best fitted around some sort of structure/plan (albeit flexible!), in particular where kids are concerned. David Kessler (The End of Overeating) and Gillian Riley (Eating Less) have interested points of view on this.

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  5. I'm sorry you feel judged anonymous and that using the Beyond Chocolate approach hasn't had the desired outcome with your son anonymous. The point I wanted to make was not so much about whether the teenager should have eaten the bagel or not and the choices we make around feeding our children. I was more concerned with the public shaming, the message about not being able to trust yourself, the fact that the girl was told there was something wrong with her because she was hungry only an hour after breakfast. This is untruthful, cruel and unhelpful. And yes, I have a judgement about it. I didn't have any particular judgement about the fact that she told her not to wait for lunch. Since I've become a mother, I have come to the conclusion that each mum has to do what works for her.

    I have a four year old who currently will not sit still long enough to eat even an apple, let a lone a meal. He is also going through a phase where all the food he eats has to be 'separate' (not mixed up in other words) and he has a very sweet tooth. After a brief battle to try and get him to eat proper meat & 2 veg type meals rather than graze throughout the day, I switched tack and now the fridge and cupboards are full of snack sized food all of which I am happy for him to eat. He's learning about sugar and carbs and protein and fats and about the importance of balancing them. I sometimes have to gently guide him to a better choice of food reminding him of the above and he's amijg more and more balanced choices. I encourage him to set up a 'food station' (a plate set on a stool or play table) so that he doesn't have to sit at the table and can do pit stops to fuel up (car analogies work well - he'sa boy). His diet is healthy and he eats plenty - it just doesn't conform to what is normally regarded as such. It works for me and it works for him. And that's not say that it will work for every child. I just wanted to flag up that there isn't a right or a wrong way of approaching this.

  6. Thank you for clarifying your point Chocolate Fairy. I think it was the start of your 2nd paragraph ("At this point I'm tempted to go into rant mode and talk about how the mother's response will shape her daughter's relationship with food") that sounded so judgemental. I've been in the supermarket so many times with kids pestering to break into food I haven't even paid for yet, knowing that I've got a lovely home cooked meal waiting for them at home if they'd only wait a few minutes! The thought that someone would feel I was a bad parent for asking them to wait appalled me!! I agree that shaming a child for asking for food is not a good thing (I wonder if this is the mother's normal attitude or whether she was just having a bad day and was feeling harrassed? You never know someones situation do you?). Anyway, like I said, I do love Beyond Chocolate, and I use much of your advice for myself and my kids. I am glad you've pointed out there is no right or wrong way to approach this, as parents are scrutinised and judged enough! :)

  7. I find this really hard. Amy (8 months) is offered food when I eat and bf the rest of the time. Rosie 3.5 is given 3 meals plus 2 snacks and I would try to persuade her to wait if it was just before a meal. But this evening for example she wanted a snack and I'm cooking dinner so she's eating apple slices to keep her going.
    We do expect her to eat a 'reasonable' amount of main meal (not all of it) before pudding. I worry about value judgments regarding pudding being better than other food but sometimes she needs guidance.

  8. In relation to the comment from the third 'anonymous' poster who says "I can only go by my experience, not what some study says . . ." The study was not simply academic, it was formed on the findings of real-life experience. Obviously, from what you say, your experience deviates from this.

  9. This is clearly a very emotive issue - I think we need to separate out the two things that happened here - the fact that the child was refused food on the grounds that she'd only recently eaten and the fact that the child was refused food because it was close to a meal-time. In the first instance, I don't think any of us can say how long it takes for someone else to feel hungry again. In that mum's case, I would have let the child eat the bagel and not worried about her eating less of her dinner. I wouldn't comment on how long it had been since breakfast because I know from my own experience that some days I'm hungry again very quickly and other days it's hours before I start feeling hungry again.
    I have also heard similar conversations between harrassed mums and children in supermarkets - shopping can be a deadly boring experience for children and I would prefer a happy child with something to eat to a miserable winge-baggy child trailing around unhappily after me because I'd with-held food, regardless of how soon afterwards a formal meal was to be held. A snack doesn't totally preclude eating a healthy meal - it may be that the child would need less at the mealtime, but that's hardly going to hurt on an occasional basis.

  10. It might be worth having another read at an earlier blog by one of the Beyond Chocolate sisters. I think it was Sophie who, after a few years of feeding her toddler son a structured so-called healthy eating plan, moved him onto the principles of Beyond Chocolate/Intuitive Eating. While her son initially went all-out on feasting on 'junk' food for a little while (after being denied it for so long, I imagine) his mother held with it and, now, as a young adult teenager she says he has a very healthy relationship with food and remains an intuitive eater. I guess what this boils down to is that, at the end of the day, the body knows what it needs if we care to listen to it. . . . something which - with all the messages society throws at us - is very difficult, but not impossible to do.

  11. Humiliating someone for their hunger is not very Beyond Chocolate. Letting your kids mindlessly snack around the supermarket so they're not 'winge-baggy' is also not very Beyond Chocolate! Whatever happened to sit down, put your food on your plate, and FOCUS!? The solution? Order your shopping online and NEVER go supermarket shopping with kids in tow!!

  12. If the 'letting your kids mindlessly snack around the supermarket so they're not 'winge-baggy' comment was aimed at me - that's not what I said at all. If I am in a supermarket with a child who says that they are hungry and asks to eat something from the trolley, I would let them. I wouldn't just hand children food to keep them quiet willy-nilly on every shopping trip .... I agree that wouldn't be 'very Beyond Chocolate' at all. My point was that if a child said s/he was hungry, I would be happy for them to eat something even if I had a meal planned for shortly after the shopping trip and I wouldn't comment on how long it had been since they last ate. Is that clear now?


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