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Are You A Member of the Clean Plate Club?

Are You A Member of the Clean Plate Club?

I still remember being out to a meal with my father one time and feeling incredibly guilty that I couldn’t finish all of the food on my plate. I was probably ten at the time, and in my mind he’d spent money on the meal, and it was probably expensive, so I should eat it all (looking back, we were at an Italian food chain restaurant; my meal was probably 6 dollars or so). I don’t remember him making me feel bad about it, and I don’t think I actually finished it, but this incident is important because the food guilt was already in me at the tender age of ten. I carried it with me for years, and sometimes I even notice it now.

Can you relate? Did your parents ever insist you finish your meal? Did they tell you it cost money, or remind you of starving children around the world, or tell you that you were being wasteful? Do those words still enter your head now when you think of throwing out food?

In other words, are you a lifetime member of the Clean Plate Club?

I totally get it. It can be really hard to throw out food (or just stop eating and wrap up the leftovers) for a number of reasons. Some if it may be those lingering parental voices, insisting that you can’t have dessert unless you eat everything on your plate. Some of it, though, may have come from relentless dieting as an adult.

You see, diets rob you of autonomy. They set you up for failure by describing exactly how much you can eat, so you lose touch with your own fullness signals. When you do go back to eating on your own accord, you may overeat because you’ve been hungry (from dieting) for so long, or you may simply feel rebellious and say “heck, no!” to stopping.

Here are some ways to leave the Clean Plate Club forever:

  • Sit down when you eat and pay attention to your food. You’ll almost always clean your plate if you’re eating on the run or watching TV, as it disengages you from your natural fullness signals.
  • When you think you might be full, pause. You can even get up and go do something in another room, as often those who have chronically dieted or who use food for emotional reasons may feel overly attached to the food, and interrupting the spell of eating may be the break you need to put the rest away.
  • Try reminding yourself that you can always eat the rest later—just because you’re putting it away now doesn’t mean you can’t eat more again in an hour or two.
  • Be realistic about waste. Sure, it’s ideal to buy the exact right amount of food or have the restaurant serve you the perfect amount to fill your belly, but it’s also really unlikely. Sometimes you’re going to have to “waste” food by throwing it away. However, try asking yourself what you prefer: throwing the food away, or eating food that’s no longer that enjoyable (since you’re full) that will make you feel uncomfortably full.
  • Take it slow. If you’ve been cleaning your plate your whole life, and every member of your family is in your head, telling you why you have to eat it all, it can take a while to create a new behavior.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.