This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
I spent last Christmas in the U.K., with my aunt and cousins, including a not-quite-2-year-old cousin named Rawley. I’d been practicing intuitive eating for a couple years at that point, and while I knew my food issues weren’t 100% out the window, I was relatively confident in my ability to eat well. By that, I mean that I fed myself good, satisfying food, rarely ate far past the point of full, and didn’t let my whole self-worth get tied up in whether or not I had a second Christmas cookie. I ate food without all the food bullshit, in other words; I was simply beyond all that.
Nuh-uh. Sitting through one meal with a toddler reminded me what real, raw, unadulterated intuitive eating really looked like. That kid ate without bullshit. He wasn’t beyond it. It wasn’t even in his eyeline. He had me beat, by a mile. Not that it was a contest. I guess.
The phrase “eat like a 2-year-old” is often cited both in intuitive eating and in the diet world. Diet advocates often suggest eating like a toddler in order to lose weight (I refuse to link to it, but there is actually a plan out there called “The Baby Diet”). Intuitive eating coaches and RDs use it to remind people that, once upon a time, they were able to eat based on instinct and desire, and that food was totally divorced from morality and self-esteem. There was a time before the bullshit got hold of us when we just asked for (or demanded) the food we wanted, when we wanted it, and when we’d had enough, we simply stopped.
“More toast,” Rawley would demand each morning, sitting in his high chair. (Really, what he said was, “Moe toe,” but I’m going to translate from English-accented baby talk from here on out. Trust, it was adorable.) And someone would give him more toast.
“More kiwi.” Someone would peel a kiwi and place a few tiny pieces on his tiny tray table.
“Rawley, will you have some more pasta?” we’d ask. And he’d turn his face away and stick out his hand, waving it off like a bored emperor.
What he lacked in table manners, he made up for in this incredible power to eat or stop eating, regardless of what everyone else was doing or saying to him. He was never embarrassed or hesitant to ask for anything. He never looked at his empty plate and said, “Oh my god, I’m so bad. I need to start cleansing, like, yesterday.” When Rawley ate, he just ate.
This is why — loathe though I am to admit it — the intuitive eating coaches and the diet pushers can both be right about the effects of eating like a 2-year-old. We all have our own natural, “default” weight range, and if we ate with the same freedom and detachment as a toddler, we’d probably stay steadily within that range, until things like age, illness, or other outside influences changed it. We wouldn’t purposefully starve ourselves down below our default weight, nor would we binge ourselves above it. But it doesn’t follow that everyone who isn’t thin automatically would be if they adopted “The Baby Diet,” because not everyone is born to be naturally thin. That’s the big, fat gap in the diet advocates’ argument.
However, all of us would certainly benefit from the real perk of eating toddler-style. If someone could just get in your head and delete everything that everyone has ever told you about what and how you should eat, what might that life be like? Seri