The SMN Interviews: How the ‘Clean Plate Club’ ruined us all

Feb 3, 2024, 7:44 AM

Image: Empty food plates are seen in London....

Empty food plates are seen in London. (Photo: Oli Scarff, Getty Images)

(Photo: Oli Scarff, Getty Images)

In an effort to keep your health-related New Year resolutions in focus, we’ve been interviewing experts on health topics throughout the month of January. So far this month, we’ve learned that reducing your salt intake by one teaspoon a day can have the same health-effects as taking a daily high blood pressure medication. We were also taught how to reflect on how foods make you feel after you eat them, especially if we’re noticing the positive effects of those foods, can help us reset our focus on foods that work for our energy levels.

This week, on Seattle’s Morning News, Dave Ross and I interviewed Dr. Judson Brewer, author of “The Hunger Habit.”

“People trying to use willpower to change eating habits is not something that works very well, and from a neuroscience standpoint it’s not even in the conversation,” Brewer said confidently.

First, how do we even form habits around food?

“Everybody shares the same mechanism. There are three elements that trigger a behavior and a result. So, think of our ancient ancestors out on the savanna, they see food, there’s the trigger, they eat the food, there’s the behavior, and then their stomach sends this dopamine signal to their brain that says, ‘Remember what you ate and where you found it.’

“In modern day that’s still in play, where we are starting to learn to eat food, not when we’re hungry, but when we’re angry, sad, lonely, bored, tired — all these emotional reasons,” Brewer continued.  “Or we might eat beyond satiety, such as if we’re part of the ‘clean plate club.’ So, all of those become reasons that we eat not out of hunger, but just out of habit.”

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Speaking of the “Clean Plate Club,” that was never a mantra in my family, but I have plenty of childhood stories from my millennial peers about this forced ritual at dinner time. To put it kindly, they hated it. And, according to Dr. Brewer and science, this kind of eating is one way our brains get programmed to eat out of habit or for a reward (dessert) rather than out of hunger.

“Kids were taught to not pay attention their hunger and satiety signals, but to their parents wishes and demands instead,” Dr. Brewer noted.

Then, Dave asked what actual hunger should feel like since we’re all apparently so programmed to eat out of emotion or boredom. For that portion of the interview, head here.

Listen to more of our conversation with Dr. Judson Brewer here or just click below.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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The SMN Interviews: How the ‘Clean Plate Club’ ruined us all