The danger of “finish your broccoli or else”

little boy cleaning the plate The danger of “finish your broccoli or else”Do you make a scene when food is left on the plate by your children ?

Fighting talk at the dinner table

I can remember the food fights that went on – eat your vegetables or NO TV.   The other tactic which was employed regularly, was references to starving kids in Ethiopia. Of course, no TV had some personal relevance, but I felt feathers for starving kids in far away places.  

The threats didn’t curtail my TV habits much – I was a wilful child, enforcing rules was often more trouble than it was worth. Don’t think the tough talk made much difference to my consumption of vegetables either.   “Healthy” foods were never high on my culinary agenda.  I loved SUGAR. 

But a study suggests the “Clean your plate” talk, might have made a difference to my eating habits in the long run. The difference was not positive.

The clean plate club not a good thing ?

The clean the plate mantra, seems to have a habit of back firing, according to research published by Cornell Food & Brand Lab.

Clean plate thinking dupes the neurons in charge of managing appetite.   Wiring the clean plater up, for a lifetime of cleaning plates, irrespective of hunger and saiety.

Pre-schoolers loading up their plates

The research team dished up the mid-morning snack, at a local daycare centre.  On the menu,  an all you want serving of Fruit loops.

63 children participated in the study.   The children were in charge of “filling” the bowl.  They needed to shout “WHEN,” when the bowl was full enough to fill their tummies.  Before being served their bowl of cereal, the researchers recorded how much cereal had been added by weighing the dish.

The B part of the study, involved finding out a little bit about the “Clean Plate” philosophies and practices of the children’s families.

Clean plate club members  plated up

Logic would suggest – a clean plate child would err on the side of too little, to avoid the stress of being forced to finish a bowl full of stuff they may not necessarily want.

But, somewhat surprisingly, members of the “Clean Plate Club” tended to do the opposite – they stacked up their plates with MORE.

Off switch already on the blink ?

In principle at least, we really should not overeat because there are lots of systems tasked with getting the “I am FULL” message, from the stomach to the brain. 

But we do overeat. 

The  consequence …………………obesity.

FULL is relative

When your child turns up his/her nose at the broccoli – they probably are full, having satisfied their energy requirements on the more desirable items on the plate.  Forcing the broccoli issue seems like the right thing to do,  because the broccoli has a bunch of phytonutrients which were not in the noodles or stew.  But eating those few extra spoons of broccoli, ends up undermining the I AM FULL message.  

The stomach finds room for the extra food, so the brain learns the I AM FULL message,  is not an absolute – there is wiggle room.

The wiggle room is the difference between eating what you need and OVEREATING.

Don’t overfeed

The developing brain is learning the rules.  TEACH it not to overeat.  Watch how you enforce those “CLEAN PLATE” rules.

Broccoli is going to be left to the end of a meal – it really doesn’t taste too good.   So when you dish up dinner, don’t overdo it, rather serve a little less food and be sure there is enough room for the broccoli too. 

Consequences of Belonging to the “Clean Plate Club”. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (2008) 162 (10): 994. Brain Wansink, Collin Payne, Caroline Werle.  

Interested in learning more about the chemistry behind those extra fat layers ?

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Further reading

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The brain’s fussy eater defence makes food look yummier Variety is the spice that drives obesity Is a little hard labour the key to silencing the appetite neurons ?

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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