Beyond the ‘Clean Plate Club’

by | Aug 24, 2023

The Clean Plate Club. – Strong Is The New Beautiful

A patient came to me last month with this statement: “I am a recovering former member of the clean plate club.” I started thinking in overdrive about what this was – is there a local charter? Where do they meet? There must be snacks…

It took a few minutes to realize she was referring to a childhood experience a lot of us had at the dinner table. Our parents, part of the Baby Boomer generation, often repeating a rule that we couldn’t get up from our chairs until we cleaned our plates. Many of us heard the phrase “there are starving kids in the world” and “you are throwing away money if you waste that food,” or various versions of similar sentiments.

And our parents were right, in many ways. Kids have a tendency to pile more food on their plates than they have appetites for, and teaching about budgeting and waste is an important lesson to learn early on. In a land of plenty, it’s easy for kids to not have a clue about food shortages- in our own country as well as globally – and other kids who struggle to eat enough.

Sentiments like this can have long term effects beyond teaching about personal family budgets and the greater collective. It can set a groove in our psyches and minds about portion control and how we visualize our plates: grooves that can carry into adulthood. A lot of anxiety, worry and unconscious overeating can be a by-product of this mentality.

Childhood patterns run deep. Social norms regarding food at social gatherings, for rewards, for comfort, for something to do when we meet a friend for a catch up, etc. run as a current in our cultures, and, I would argue, in cultures across the globe.

What is a mental food pattern ingrained in you as a child? As adults, with life stressors, changing hormones and levels of satiation, it’s important to identify and decode these patterns. While we work to build new habits that enhance your ‘eating plans for life’,” we recognize where there can be a block or unwanted behavior and we work together to start making different choices. By looking at it without judgment, we can start to give ourselves permission to create healthier behaviors instead.

It can be empowering to realize we can change the script the more we discover what foods and portions complement positive current life style and nutrition habits. For example: was sugar a reward for good grades, sports achievements, etc? If sugar has become a problem for your overall health now, can you be open to recognize that old “groove” and make changes?

In the case of my patient, she has learned how to bypass this mental groove to only eat until she is full, and leave the rest – to share with someone else at the table or finish as leftovers the next day. She admitted it has taken her many months to do this, after finally identifying where the habit came from and allowing a new one to take hold.

The “clean plate club” echo, however, still shows up from time to time. She understands it now and can make more realistic shifts.

Here at Protea Nutrition, we can help you decode lingering childhood patterns that aren’t working anymore, with compassion instead of judgement. Our brains are vast, capable of creating new patterns, neural pathways, that support where we are now and who we want to be.

Maybe it’s time for the “eating for life plate” crew instead of the “clean plate club.”

Call us today for a consult, and let’s get you started.