How many of you are part of the Clean the Plate Club?? Come on, I know you are out there. Well, I am most definitely part of the Clean the Plate Club. My parents had strict rules about eating everything on our plates at dinner and if we brought home lunch uneaten, we got in trouble.
I know that kids can be finicky eaters and that having them clean their plates has some value. The problem is that now that I’m all grown up (well, sort of), the ingrained habit of cleaning the plate gets me into trouble. I end up overeating, feeling gross for hours after I’ve eaten, and not really enjoying what I’ve eaten because I’m trying to eat everything on the plate.
In my life now, I try to avoid cleaning the plate. If I’m full, I try to save the leftovers for another meal or for a snack or toss the left over food. I know, throwing away food is super cringe inducing. Even writing these last couple of sentences makes my upper back and neck seize up as I try to keep my entire face from going into a full force cringe.
If you haven’t noticed the downsides to being a member of the Clean the Plate Club, now is the time to think about it and become aware of it. With the rising rates of obesity in this country (sorry, I had to put that in there), one of the things to think about is how we eat. For those of us that just want to maintain our weight or maybe just lose a few pounds, these ideas can be helpful, too.
1. Be aware. Be aware of your body’s signals. Let your body speak to you. This means that you need to turn that TV off and sit with your food. Just you and the food. How do you feel? Are you hungry? Are you sad? Are you angry? Are you stressed? How about as you eat, are you feeling full? After you eat, are you satisfied? Check in with yourself as you eat. This isn’t the easiest thing to do. Since I live alone, being aware while I eat, means that I have to sit in my very quiet apartment alone with my food. And sometimes that whole thing about feeling alone kind of bothers me. So you’ll often find me watching TV online while I eat or trying to read for school while I eat. Try to eat without those kinds of distractions. Maybe not all the time, but try it a few times. You might be surprised at what you find.
2. Do yoga. You might have looked at that and gone, “Huh??” There was a study done (don’t ask me where it’s from…I’m good at storing the important information but not who the author is or what the study is, sorry for those of you who find that important) that found that people who practiced yoga were better able to maintain their weight and keep their weight down in middle age, which is when people typically start having more difficulty maintaining a healthy body state. The researchers thought it had something to do with mindfulness and awareness…see #1. 🙂
Now, I tried this. Not on purpose, but for a while, I was doing yoga almost everyday. And I found that I was much more aware and in tune with my body and thus, my eating as well. I stopped over eating and had an easier time pushing food away when I was done. Find yoga that you like. I did yoga with a video that I liked. I recently tried a yoga class and it wasn’t for me. So you need to find yoga that you like. Similarly, you could always find another sort of practice that focuses on mindfulness, such as tai-chi, qui-gong, meditation, etc. Even some martial arts can promote mindfulness.
Just as a warning, mindfulness and awareness aren’t always the most pleasant things to engage in. It can seem scary. I urge you to try it and try to sit with that feeling. The feelings will pass and you might find out new things about yourself.
3. Plate just enough food. Decide how much you’re going to eat before you sit down. This feels more like a diet, but if I consciously consider what I’m putting on my plate, then I can put down an amount of food that even if I cleaned the plate would not be catastrophic. It’s another way at getting at the clean the plate compulsion. You can indulge in cleaning the plate, but without overeating.
4. Decide how much you are going to eat. This is more a restaurant tactic. When we are out eating, we are usually with our friends or family and the atmosphere is more festive. So we talk and eat and talk and eat and talk and eat…well you get the idea. And then you walk out of the restaurant feeling overly full and maybe even gross (at least that’s how I feel). So, decide how much you are going to eat and stick to it. After a while, with all the awareness practicing, you should be able to modulate eating much better, but in the beginning set some limits. So when the appetizer comes out, figure out how much you are going to eat. When your main dish comes out, decide how much you are going to eat, put it on a separate plate and then send the rest of it back to the kitchen to be wrapped up. Now you can clean the plate and still walk out feeling good.
5. Eat on a schedule. I know it’s not fun to do most things on a schedule, much less eat. It’s so much more fun to sneak in a piece of chocolate midday. However, if you clean the plate, the one way to combat it is to eat when you aren’t ravenous. When you eat on a schedule, your body will start to expect food at certain times but you won’t be getting to that point where even a piece of paper starts to look delicious. Let me tell you, that is not a fun state to be in. So eat on a schedule. For all the really busy people, it might mean that you carry around a meal bar, protein bar, piece of fruit, or smoothie to combat hunger when you can’t get to eating right when you want to eat.
This is something to think about. Clean the Plate Club is maybe a good idea, but it doesn’t serve us well as adults. Consider your eating habits, your life, and how they are affecting you. All the awareness that I suggest up above might open you up to other areas of your life. I encourage you to let those things in and work on your life. Healthy eating is not just what you put into your mouth, but it’s also about how you feel, how you think, and how things are going in your life. Sometimes we have to look at things outside of food and eating to figure out what our relationship to food is.