Photo: “children eating” by Franklin Park Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0


The pressure to eat in social and family settings can be exhausting. At some point throughout our childhood, I’m sure we’ve heard the phrase, “You are not getting up from this table until you’ve finished your dinner,” or something along those lines. Eating meals as a family is supposed to be the time where you come together to catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives. However, sometimes these family dinners lead to arguments about the food being served rather than enjoyable conversations.

From the time we are born, our parents influence us and the decisions we grow to make. They clothe us, teach us, take care of us when we’re sick and feed us. When you’re a child, you don’t really have much say as to what you are being given to eat, but you do have a say as to how much of something you want to consume. A lot of parents believe their children need more food than necessary and ignore them when they tell them they are satisfied. This brings on an immense amount of stress to both the parents and children. Maybe sometimes children are just being defiant and picky, but most of the time, they understand when they feel hungry and when they feel full. Because of this, parents forcing their children to “clear their plates” or making comments about their appetites will enable them to develop an unhealthy relationship not just with food but their body image and, in some cases, can even lead to a poor parent-child relationship.

According to a study published in the journal of “Eating and Weight Disorders” by Brian Wansink, Lara Latimer and Lizzy Pope, it was found that comments made about their female child’s weight were significantly linked to the child’s weight and dissatisfaction of their bodies as adults. These comments also influenced their unhealthy dieting behaviors, binge eating as well as other forms of disordered eating, making it more difficult for these girls to flourish into adults with positive body image and food relationships. 

Body dissatisfaction is not only prevalent in girls. A study done by Rachel F. Rodgers, Susan J. Paxton and Henri Chabrol recruited 338 college students, of which 188 were female and 147 were male. The findings showed that negative parental comments on weight and appetite directly affected the rate of body dissatisfaction in males. In my opinion, parents need to be aware of the consequences that can arise from comments they make; whether they realize they are negative or not, they need to find ways to empower their children in a way that will allow them to feel confident in their bodies and around food.

A Newsweek article titled “Why Parents Shouldn’t Force Food on Picky Children, According to a New Study” by Kashmira Gander discussed whether or not parents should force their children to eat foods that they claim they dislike. It was found that parents that were more likely to push certain foods on their children severely affected the parent-child relationship. One of the researchers, Dr. Julie Lumeng, said, “The takeaway here is that pressuring children to eat needs to be done with caution, and we don’t have much evidence that it helps with much,” meaning that forcing your child who does not like broccoli to eat it will not make them like it, but it could potentially lead to a more hostile parent-child relationship.  

When coming together as a family at mealtime, it is important to consider these behaviors and how they influence children. If your child is telling you they are full, they probably are, and forcing them to eat will not benefit them in any way. Also, when it comes to commenting on your child’s appetite, do it with caution as this can be the driving force behind their focus on weight, body shape and diet behaviors.

For me, I always felt the pressure from my parents to finish my plate at the dinner table. Although I wasn’t a picky eater, there was definitely some part of me that felt I should eat everything in front of me no matter what. This then ironically led to family members and other adults commenting on how big my appetite was for my age throughout the duration of my childhood. Those of us who have dealt with an eating disorder understand how toxic any comments about dietary habits or patterns are to our self-esteem, especially while trying to recover. It is important to remember that just because we are receiving these comments, we understand that no one understands our bodies like ourselves. If you are hungry, eat. If you are not hungry, don’t eat. It sounds so simple; however, once you get enough practice with listening to your body and what it is telling you it needs, it becomes almost like second nature.

If you are interested in looking deeper into listening to your hunger cues, I recommend reading “Intuitive Eating” written by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND. This is a great book that covers many different aspects of listening to your body, as well as learning how to accept your body for what it is and all it does. The book can be found on amazon here:


Dayna Vacca is a fourth-year nutrition and dietetics major. DV885940@WCUPA.EDU



 Rodgers, R. F., Paxton, S. J. & Chabrol, H. (2009). Effects of parental comments on body dissatisfaction and eating disturbance in young adults: A sociocultural model. Body image. Body Image. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.04.004


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