First Bite explains how you’ve acquired your eating habits in your childhood and why they’re not hardwired, as well as how you can change them for the better and teach your children to eat healthy.
“I can’t help it, I’ve just always loved cake!” Chances are “always” started when you were four, five or six years old, not actually when you were born. Telling ourselves our eating habits are hardwired into our genetic code is a welcome excuse, of course. It allows you to avoid taking responsibility for how you look and how healthy you are.
But at the very latest when we have kids, it might be time to look in the mirror, suck it up and say “Alright, it’s time to set a better example.” I believe awareness is always the first step. That’s where books like this one come in. By educating yourself about the history of eating habits and what research says really makes us eat the way we do, you’ll be well on your way to improving your diet (as in “way of life,” not weight loss program).
Here are 3 lessons from Bee Wilson’s First Bite:
- Kids make better food choices than you think – if you let them.
- Your parents might make your children fat, in spite of having good intentions.
- Learn to tell hunger from appetite to make sure you don’t take in unnecessary calories.
Want to cultivate healthier eating habits? You’ve come to the right place, here we go!
Lesson 1: Children will make good food choices on their own, if we let them.
Who had the biggest impact on your eating habits? Your parents, of course! Chances are that, if you were always told to finish your plate, you still eat whatever’s in front of you today, even when you’re already full. Or if your mom always allowed you to snack before dinner, you probably still do that today. The eating habits of our parents become our eating habits.
Therefore, the only right way to get your kids to acquire good eating habits is to lead by example.
One thing that’s proven to never work is forcing kids to “eat the right stuff” – especially when you’re not doing it yourself. Kids will see right through the “salad scam” and simply refuse. But imagine letting your kids choose to eat what they want. A nightmare, right?
Maybe not. In 1929, a study was done letting babies as young as six months self-select their food. The babies were all given a selection of 34 foods and then allowed to choose among everything from milk to kidney. The study continued for six years, and the kids were never pressured into selecting.
Astonishingly, over the duration of the study, all children chose all foods, and even went for the healthiest ones when sick.
So don’t stress about letting your kids decide what to eat – especially with you being a good example not that much can go wrong.
Lesson 2: Grandparents tend to make their children and grandchildren overeat.
Did your grandma use to tell you to “have just one more bite” when you were little? Or to finish your entire plate? Or to have dessert, even when you said you were full?
Why do grandparents do that? And is it any good?
First of all, no, it’s not good, of course. It just makes you fat. And that’s exactly what grandparents want. But they mean well. You have to remember that your grandparents likely lived in times when food wasn’t always readily available. Most grandparents have been through a war, famine or food shortage at some point in their lives, so their natural tendency is to want something better for their children and grandchildren.
It’s the equivalent of rich parents paying everything for their kids, and thus spoiling them. While your grandparents think you’ll be well prepared with a few extra kilograms of weight, chances of a food shortage are very slim in most places nowadays, which turns these good intentions into bad weight problems.
This problem is especially prominent in China, where most parents work and grandparents take care of the kids, making them chubby on purpose.
So watch how your parents influence your kids’ eating habits (and your own).
Lesson 3: Know when you’re hungry and when you just “want to eat” to spare yourself plenty of unnecessary calories.
Of course nutritional value is a problem nowadays, with salt, sugar and fat being the primary components of most processed foods. But the worst calories to consume are still the ones you never needed in the first place.
Welcome to comfort eating. Just like food scarcity has become rare in the Western world, so has hunger. But if food is always available, it’s very easy to mistake appetite for hunger. When you’re bored, sad, frustrated or not satisfied with something, food is an easy, fast, and readily available choice. If I’m honest, I don’t really know what it means to be really hungry.
Recently, I’ve sometimes skipped dinner, just to see what it feels like, and I’m often surprised that it’s not that bad. It just makes me appreciate breakfast more.
Studies have shown that children can learn to regulate how much they eat within a few weeks, and for adults a week is enough. So the next time you’re about to eat a Snickers bar, ask yourself: Are you really hungry? Or just bored?
My personal take-aways
Some of the insights in this book are surprising, others not so much – but all of them are important. This isn’t the most exciting book in the world, but a very necessary one, if you ask me. Awareness is key, it all starts with learning about how we work and what biology and history tell us about eating. A good read!