Calling Time On... The Clean Plate Club - The M Word

Calling Time On… The Clean Plate Club

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One of my earliest memories as a child is me sitting at the kitchen table behind a plate of food as the summer sun began to set.  My parents and sisters had already left the table long before but I wasn’t allowed to leave until I finished my dinner. That evening we had breakfast for dinner, or ‘brinner,’ and I did not want to eat my sausages that had somehow come in contact with maple syrup- oh the horror!

Flash forward almost three decades later and I’m still dealing with the after-effects of this learned attitude toward food.  I was always expected to clean my plate as a kid because ‘no one should ever waste food’ and it was the only way I would ever get dessert.  

Now I, and many other Clean Plate Club members, struggle to identify when we are full AS ADULTS.

When you are raised to literally ignore your natural feelings of fullness and satisfaction because you NEEDED to clean your plate, you may struggle with knowing what satiation, or being full, actually feels like.  As I work through these issues with an intuitive eating coach, I have only begun to realise how disconnected I have been from my body!

Years of dieting and bingeing as a result, have only contributed to this lack of body awareness. I am having to relearn my body’s hunger cues and it is a lot harder than it sounds!  For the most part I find it easiest to identify the extremes- feeling nauseatingly empty or overstuffed to the max, but there’s so many levels in between!

The most grim discovery I have made is how my husband and I have been slowly initiating our children to the Clean Plate Club.  Our total lack of awareness in this area is a testament to how long this has been our ‘normal,’ and I don’t want that for our kids.  

Babies and young children intuitively know when they are full, it’s adults who keep thinking we know better!

Paced bottle feeding, or a slower feed while baby is upright versus reclined, is being recommended extensively because it not only reduces colic, wind and reflux, it also gives babies time to recognise and learn their own level of fullness.

Tipping a bottle back to feed an infant means their stomach becomes full much more quickly and that feeling of fullness is not recognised. Babies and young children also pull away their body or push away food when they are full.

Insisting a child clean their plate or finish a meal so they can receive dessert teaches them to ignore their intuition and eat beyond comfortable fullness.  

What can we do instead?  Let your children decide when they are full.  It’s ok not to clear a plate and it doesn’t necessarily mean food will be wasted.  Telling your child that they can return to finish their dinner or snack, etc. also reduces the likelihood of your child eating past comfort because they fear food might not be accessible later.  

Essentially you are encouraging your child to listen to their own body, stop when they are full and ask for more if that feeling of hunger returns again. This is a much more positive way for kids to connect with food and their bodies.

Michelle Mayefske
Michelle Mayefske
Michelle is a birth doula and the owner of Limerick Doula Services. She supports families throughout pregnancy, birth and the early postpartum days. Michelle is a mum of four and a self-proclaimed body positivity enthusiast. She is passionate about helping women embrace their bodies by ditching years of guilt and body shame!