Imagine someone close and special to you who prepares all of your meals every day. It is a responsible and important task. Food needs to be selected, bought, brought, unpacked, prepared and served in order to feed you. A tough job. Now, imagine that the very same person decides how much and when you have to eat, plus watches whether you succeeded in EATING IT ALL. No leftovers. You are obliged to clean your plate! It doesn’t matter that you hate liver or black pudding. As long as the person believes that it’s good for your health, you can’t mess around. Otherwise, the person will be sad or angry with you and forbid you from watching your favorite series or going out shopping. You are also at serious risk of losing that everyday cup of your lovely coffee unless you EAT IT ALL!
Kids who are forced to eat usually have problems with hunger and satiety self-regulation. They are less responsive to the natural hunger and fullness clues. Moreover, due to the constant parental fear of a starving child, these kids are regularly overfed. As a consequence, they are prone to develop higher weight status. It is still not so rare to see mums who always have kids’ snacks at hand, asking every hour, ‘Aren’t you hungry, honey?’ It is not only a nuisance for a little one. Such an attitude can negatively affect a child’s feeding patterns in future life. As an adult, it won’t be attentive enough to recognize and respect the subtle differences between hunger, gluttony and healthy appetite. The lesson that an authoritarian parent gives to a child at the table may have serious consequences down the road in the form of eating disorders such as obesity, anorexia or bulimia.
Force-feeding parents don’t mean to harm their child when asking them to clean their plate. Nevertheless, they usually forget or don’t realize that eating is a very personal act that depends on various factors. Human appetite is regulated according to the time of day, amount of sleep, physical and mental effort, changing temperature, illness, child’s developmental stage and even mood. Although it is crucial for a child to have a sustainable and healthy diet, a parent cannot decide on the exact amount and frequency of every child’s meal.
Even when parents’ intentions are good, force-feeding is a form of emotional abuse. Therefore, instead of urging a child to finish that bowl of soup, let them assume that it’ll be ready when a chap feels hungry. A child instinctively knows how much to eat. It won’t starve itself.