“You’d better finish your plate! There’s starving kids in Africa going hungry tonight while you’re trying not to eat your vegetables.”
We’ve all heard this before. My mother said this to me. The shows on the telly said this to me. Random parents in the mall’s food court spoke it aloud. From birth, most Americans (and perhaps inhabitants of other countries as well) are conditioned to finish all of the plate on their food, whether they want it or not.
Oftentimes, this notion is used with good intentions. Children often try skipping out of eating their veggies, while still devouring their meat and carbs and screaming for dessert. “Finish your plate” is an exasperated parent’s cry to keep their kid from developing scurvy, while “there’s starving kids in Africa” implants guilt within them for not eating those delicious leaves of spinach.
There’s only five more forkfuls. I know you’re full, but it’s just five forkfuls. That’s barely any compared to how many forkfuls you’ve already had! Come on…into the mouth…THERE you go! Put some water in your mouth, and it’ll help you chew and swallow it down. …GOOD JOB. Okay, now…there’s only four forkfuls now. You’ve got this! That’s barely any compared to how many forkfuls you’ve already had…
It’s just not healthy.
This is why fad diets and exercises don’t work. They’re not giving the body what it needs, but rather what you think it needs so that you can look like a cover model. And eventually, your body gives up, and you lapse back into your unhealthy habits once more.
Portion control is key, no matter what you eat. Yes, salads are healthy, but if you eat a giant bowl of iceberg lettuce with buttermilk ranch on top, you’re not getting anywhere in life.
And that is why “finish your plate” is so damaging. You’re ignoring portion control, and you’re ignoring your body. Your body is saying that it is full–that it has reached the level of fuel required to run through the day–but you are still shoveling more gas into the tank.
Are you overly gassy? Do you have poop problems? Indigestion? Feel like a lard after a meal? You’re finishing your plate.
I know, it’s hard! It is soooo hard, and I struggle with it daily. When I do finish my plate without feeling full, I congratulate myself. I placed the exact right amount of food on the plate, and as a result I was able to finish it without punishing my body.
When I feel full and have to put my plate down, I look sadly at that one forkful of kale left, the two bites of tilapia, the toddler-sized handful of rice. I know that I can still eat that. But I’ll be destroying my body in the process. It’s better to store that plate in the fridge (or get a to-go box from a restaurant) for a later-day snack of what was left on the plate. Knowing this, it’s still a struggle.
Finish your plate because there’s starving kids in Africa.
What we think we’re saying is to feel grateful for what we have.
What we’re really saying is to be as gluttonous as possible with our meals. Rather than taking a couple of bucks and donating money to feed these poor kids, we are shoving the money down our throats to pop a few extra buttons off our trousers.
There’s starving kids in Africa. There’s also starving kids in our own cities. And dehydrated kids. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water. If you are continuously cooking too much food and overstuffing your plate, shorten your grocery list by a few bucks, and send Flint some water bottles.
Bottom line? You take the fuel nozzle out of the car when you hear the click say that your tank is full. Likewise, put your fork down and push your plate aside when your stomach tells you that you are full.
And instead of trivializing starving children for the benefit of the growing obesity crisis, just tell your kids to eat their veggies instead.