clean plate club
  • December 9, 2022

Episode 16: Are You in the Clean Plate Club?

Today we will be chatting about the clean plate club.     What is the clean plate club? Signs to […]

Today we will be chatting about the clean plate club.



What is the clean plate club?

Signs to look out for to know whether or not you are in it include:

  • Do you feel anxious to finish everything on your plate?
  • Every time you eat you have a mentality that you must finish the whole thing.
  • Anxiety around wasting food.


So where has this originated from?

  • For a lot of us, we may have been told growing up a variation of this analogy: ‘children in Africa are starving so you need to finish all your food’
  • The clean plate club actually originated as a propaganda campaign during World War 1. Historically it was helpful for reducing food waste when there was a lot of food shortages.
  • However, in our modern-day environment we have a much higher abundance of food (for a majority of people).
  • A big thing with the clean plate club mentality is that often it stems from our up bringing and it is something we do just because it was how we were brought up. In saying that, we don’t want to blame our grandparents who were brought up in this time of food famine as it can be very hard to change these habits.


3 reasons why the clean plate club mentality is unhelpful to children growing up in modern times:

  1. It forces children to not listen to their own hunger and fullness cues. We know children especially are very good at listening to these cues before they have had external influence placed on them.
  2. It creates an association with mealtimes and over-eating so that every time we eat, we feel the need to eat past fullness.
  3. It can make mealtimes more stressful and unenjoyable.

For Kiah personally, she has a strong and traumatic memory of being forced to eat fish (which she didn’t enjoy) as a child and was unable to leave the table until she was finished.

To re-iterate, we shouldn’t blame our parents for bringing us up with this mentality as this is all they knew and how they were brought up. However, we can do things differently now.


How this shows up for adults:

  • We can lose touch with our hunger and fullness cues and end up overeating.
  • It can cause a lot of guilt and/or shame if we leave food on our plate.


How can we leave the clean plate club?

There are a few ways we can break this mentality.


For kids:

Allow them to respect their own hunger and fullness cues. We recommend practicing the Division of Responsibility in Feeding (developed by Ellen Satter) as much as you can with your kids.

  • This divides the roles of eating up between the parents and the child.
    • The child is responsible for whether or not they eat and how much they eat.
    • The adult is responsible for when the food is provided and what food is provided.
  • This allows the child to trust their own intuitive hunger and fullness cues.
  • So, what if your child doesn’t want to eat? – Then we need to respect that. In general, no child is going to go starving if they miss one meal.
  • But, you can still have general meals around family meals e.g. encouraging them to still sit at the table with good manners and engage in discussion.



For adults:

  1. Tune into your own body cues and respect them.
    • Practice knowing when you are comfortably full and satisfied as opposed to feeling of being uncomfortably full and in pain (a food journal can help).
  2. Serve yourself smaller food portions and keeping leftovers in the fridge that you can come back to if you need to eliminate food waste.
  3. If you don’t like leftovers, invest in a composting bin for scraps. There are also many community gardens that you can take your compost to.
  4. Notice any guilt around not finishing everything on your plate. We want to validate and reframe it.
    • An example reframe is: “I am surrounded by an abundance of food and am not going to run out. It is ok to leave some food on my plate if I am full.”
  5. If it is overwhelming/difficult to leave quite a lot of food on your plate initially (e.g. if you have noticed that you actually are getting full halfway through the meal), then it might even be a good idea to start with just leaving a bite or too first then slowly increasing this.


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