Flipping the “Off”- Switch: Teaching Your Overeater How to Stop

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Do you have a child who loves to eat…and eat and eat? Do you wonder if it’s an issue?  My daughter will say “mmm” with such enthusiasm when she slurps down her soup that it gives me great happiness to serve her another bowl…and even another sometimes.  My husband is concerned. I’m not. So, when Donna Fish wrote this article about an overeating child, I knew it would not only resonate with us, but with some of you.

Flipping the “Off”- Switch: Teaching Your Overeater How to Stop by Donna Fish

Nothing like having kids to reinforce the nature part of the nurture debate when it comes to personality traits.  Forget things like hair and eye color; any parent with more than one kid knows how different and unique their personalities and temperaments are, from Day One.

I broaden this to what I call your kid’s “Food Personality”.   It is rare for there to be kids in one family who all have similar eating styles.  More often than not, I hear parents including myself, talk about having one kid who’s a fairly picky eater, stops easily, while there are many children who have trouble stopping.

I call these kids, my Trouble Transitioners.  Since I coined this term for the 6 Styles of Eaters I write about in my book, I have come to see that some kids don’t necessarily say: “More, More!” because they have trouble with transitions, but simply because they have a  well developed palate, and love the stimulation of the tastes, smells and the sensations of the food!  I think back to when my middle daughter who delights in whatever she is doing at the moment, would be eating bowls and bowls of cereal, with the biggest smile on her face; humming the whole time.  I had to teach her how to flip the ‘off’ switch by waiting and checking back in with her body 20 minutes later.

This is the opposite of the Picky Eater; kids whose palates and senses don’t develop until they are older.  (If at all, there are some adults who are still picky eaters, and not that ‘into’ food.)   Trouble Transitioners are so stimulated by the tastes and sensations (early ‘foodies’; and I say that in the best sense of the word), that they are on their third helping before they feel the signal that they are ‘Done, or Full”.  By the time they hear the signal and stop, they are usually STUFFED.  This way of eating can, over time, become habitual as the cue to feeling ‘DONE’ and STOP EATING, is triggered after larger quantities.  The obvious result can be weight issues, which create other problems.

Parents can worry about how to handle this without at best, creating bad feelings and power struggles, or at worst, an eating disorder.  (Although parents, you can let yourself off the hook, it takes more than that to create a true eating disorder; some disordered eating, perhaps, not a full blown eating disorder.)

So in the interest of giving your ‘foodies’ some tools to prevent problems from developing, here are some tips:

1)    Enjoy and show your kid that you love how much they love food and the tastes.  Celebrate this.

2)    Teach them that they are their own “BODY EXPERT”, and it is their responsibility to become the best “BODY DETECTIVE” possible.  This means listening carefully to their stomachs for the signal that they are DONE, OR FULL.  Educate them that some bodies take longer to send the signal; it can just be a whisper after one bowl of cereal, but they need to WAIT 20 minutes to hear it well.

3)    While they are waiting, let them do an activity with you like clearing the table, doing the dishes.  If they want more, leave their food on the table so they know they have access to it and can have it if their body tells them they are genuinely still hungry.  (Avoids power struggles)

4)    Teach them how to listen to their bodies; Think of gradations of Hunger/Fullness; 1-7 from Starving, to Stuffed.  Help them to Listen Carefully and EAT WHEN HUNGRY STOP WHEN DONE, OR FULL.

5)    There are some foods that lend themselves to stimulating your tongue and mouth to the point where it makes it hard to flip the “Off Switch”; some salty foods, or sweet, depending on your palate.  Teach your kid to just step away after some, and remind them they can have more later.  (Try it yourself!)

Teaching kids HOW to WAIT and STOP, is a part of preventing eating problems from developing, and empowers them to eat well for life.

Happy Mealtime!

Donna’s Other Articles:

Donna Fish

Donna Fish is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and three daughters, writes her own blog and blogs for The Huffington Post. With the publication of her book: Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, she has appeared on and in NPR, Parenting Magazine, Weekend Today Show, Fox News, USA Today and MSNBC and has lectured at Early Childhood Centers of Sarah Lawrence College, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and trained the Head Start Staff of NYC. She lectures to private schools in NYC: Bank street, Village Community School, Dalton, Chapin and more. Donna blogs for us every month- lucky us!

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  1. That was really enlightening for me. I would consider myself a foodie and I was wondering how you turn the off swich being an adult.

  2. Sorry my reply to you kept getting erased! I agree with you, I find I do my WORST eating while I am working on the computer- my screen time. The only thing that stops me sometimes is the threat of roaches marching their way upstairs!

  3. I love this and the idea of a ‘food personality’ – great concept. I would just add one point – in order for children to listen to their bodies they should avoid eating in front of the tv or screen. It is too easy to be distracted and just keep putting the food in don’t you think?

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