Young children naturally do not overeat. Many are the toddler who picks at their food for days on end, leaving the nervous mother wondering why he won't eat and how will their bodies grow develop on so little food. The ways in which your body turns hunger on and off, telling you when to start and stop eating is called your "appestat." Until around 5 years old, children have an appestat that functions very well, as they have not fully developed the other faculties which would cause them to override their natural intuition about food.
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Not too long ago, when my daughter was one year old, she would often ask for a banana, repeating her request over and over again. Finally relenting to her demand, I would peel her a banana. After a single, thoughtful bite, she would hand it back, "Daddy, I don't want a banana." Of course, the peeled banana was of no use to anyone at that point. Yet, the innocence of her appetite was refreshingly impulsive - she was truly in the moment with her food.
After about 5 years old, children anticipate the food they want from memory. The mind is greedy to replicate the joy of eating a cupcake, or candy. These memories continue to override their internal gut impulses, until as an adult they are thoroughly mystified by what foods to eat, and how much.
The appestat is the control tower of your body's appetite, monitoring at least 4 signs before telling your body "Enough!". One sign is the physical sensation of fullness. When your stomach starts to fill up, nerves that monitor pressure in your stomach wall start to fire, sending a signal that makes you feel full. Many people feel a certain pride in ignoring this signal, a sort of macho "I can do it!" sense of accomplishment in stuffing another enjoyable bite down the hatch.
I was watching the Barbara Streisand movie 'Guilt Trip' a few weeks ago. Halfway through the movie, they stop for dinner at a Texan BBQ and win the steak eating contest. Have you ever seen a contest like that? There are many variations, such as "Win a FREE T-SHIRT if you can eat this monster burrito," or "If you can eat this gallon sized banana split sundae, it's FREE." Restaurant owners knows the sense of pride and accomplishment you feel ignoring your appestat and conquering a large meal.
The appestat also monitors the amount of nutrients in your bloodstream. If you have enough glucose, fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, you will feel satisfied. Hunger abating hormones such as cholecystokinin, insulin, and glucagon are release by the small intestine and pancreas. Finally, the fat cells themselves also release leptin and other chemicals to turn off hunger.
With all your innate mechanisms for hunger & satisfaction, it would be natural to believe your body has all the capacity it needs to help you regulate how much food you eat. However, other cues can be very distracting. Signals get distorted or over-ridden by cultural beliefs, personal eating habits and physical imbalances, to the point where your appetite can seem truly unruly, mysterious & frustrating. Just like mom with her children, you might even be afraid of your appetite, or its lack. Fortunately, Ayurveda can help you remember the appetite of your youth, and regulate your appestat.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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Wonderful article. Very insightful and helpful. Awesome food for thought and being!
I am curious why as kids we are more picky than when we are adults. Is it because kids intuitively know what foods are good for their bodies avoiding complicated meals and spices?
Michael, You may be right. It could also be that kids have better absorption, so they don't need as many vegetables as adults.