“Clean your plate and you can have dessert.” A phrase used at many dinner tables from well meaning parents to make sure kids don’t just fill up on sugar at dinnertime. The problem with this method is that using bribery undermines your ability to decide what your body does and does not need. The overall message that gets relayed to the child is that your body can’t be trusted and someone else knows better than you what and how much you should eat.
That may have been a good strategy when you were eight years old to prevent you from eating ice cream all the time, but now as an adult that method of bribery isn’t necessary. If you are still cleaning your plate every time it is put in front of you without thinking much about if you really need or want what is there, then there is work to be done. The food as bribery mentality you grew up with transferred the idea that you’d rather listen to an authoritative message from someone else rather than tuning into and responding to your own intuition. When using food as bribery, the action of eating no longer is about the food itself. Instead the assumption is about appeasing someone else so that you can get or have something, tangible or intangible.
To stop overeating you have to understand what message you are telling yourself about what it means to have a clean plate at the end of the meal. Does it mean you’ve been good? Does it mean you aren’t wasting food? Does it mean you care about children starving in third world countries?
In reality, it doesn’t mean any of those things. No child with less access to food than you is better off if you eat every bite on your plate. No one will give you a badge of honor for not leaving behind any crumbs. And no, it is not better to eat the food for fear of it being “wasted” if you leave it behind. It’s not your job to ingest it, store it as fat, and carry it around with you indefinitely. The only thing that it does mean for certain is that you’ve put more food into your body than you need.
The best way to move away from this kind of eating is to ask yourself questions and be truthful about what it means to have a clean plate in front of you. Can you remember back to the first time you were told to clean your plate? Can you remember how you felt once you did? Did you feel like you would be pleasing someone whose love and attention you wanted by doing it? What happened when you didn’t clean your plate?
Take time to answer those questions for yourself. See what you uncover. It may surprise you.
I help women permanently lose weight to improve their fertility and their lives. Want help letting go of your membership in “The Clean-the-Plate Club”? Download the Infertility Mental Health Checklist now to get started doing the work on yourself.