If You Want To Be Healthier, Eat Like A Toddler

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mom-with-toddler-eatingIf you’re like most people, you grew up eating three square meals a day and certain of breakfast’s importance in the meal hierarchy, but a new book suggests we all might be doing it wrong. Medical Daily reports Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The Invention Of The American Meal, is challenging the way we think about food and how often we eat it.

In her book, Carroll asserts that scheduled meals are unnatural and actually began when European settlers first came to America as a way for them to differentiate themselves from the “uncivilized” Native Americans, who ate based on their needs and body cues. Eventually this practice of scheduling meals evolved into the American standard of eating three meals a day planned around the breaks in a typical work day.

After the industrial revolution, people began to turn a midday meal into a lunchtime staple, and the after-work meal turned into dinner, a placeholder for the next meal.

Medical Daily points to several recent studies that support abandoning scheduled meals, including one published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that showed eating breakfast does not actually have any positive effect on our caloric intake, as we’ve been led to believe. They also point to new recommendations that encourage intermittent fasting and suggest reducing caloric consumption could increase our lifespans.

In reading all of this research, I couldn’t help but think about the only people I know who actually do eat on impulse: toddlers. Many parents, myself included, struggle to get young kids to adhere to any sort of eating schedule and this could be a good reason why. Perhaps eating three meals a day goes against our natural impulses and toddlers haven’t yet learned to override their innate satiety cues.

I often marvel at the healthy relationship my children have with food. Sure, they ask for a million snacks a day, but they also refuse to eat when they aren’t hungry and have no qualms about abandoning meals when they’re full, even if it’s a really delicious meal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my daughter walk away from a slice of cake after only two bites because she’s had enough and it just doesn’t occur to her to overeat.

I think many of us participate in ritualized overeating. We eat when we’re not hungry simply because it’s time to eat or we’re bored. We stuff ourselves silly because it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day dinner, or a Fourth of July barbecue. We order the appetizer and dessert because it’s Friday and we’ve had a long week. There’s nothing wrong with indulging, of course, but over time I can see how overriding our natural urges could become a habit. As Medical Daily puts it:

Constant eating doesn’t allow the body to experience starvation mode, or even hunger for that matter. European settlers changed the biological demands of eating and turned it into a forced food farce.

They suggest that the key to a healthier relationship with food is removing yourself from the rigid eating schedule we grew up with and learning to listen to your body again. After seeing the process in action every day of my three-year-old’s life, I think they may be on to something.

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