Any chance of bullshyte story being true?

I was reading a book by self-improvement speaker Paul McKenna. He tells a story about “a study done during the 1930s” which seems highly unlikely where he claims a bunch of toddlers were permitted to eat their choice of foods for a longish period - either a week or month. He claims that offered unlimited amounts of spinach, ice cream and a wide variety of foods - ultimately all the toddlers chose to eat healthy and nutritious foods when the whole time period was considered. He relates this anecdote to a bigger theme of your body knowing what is good for it.

Of course, the study is not quoted and if it ever happened, might not include caveats like breastfeeding. Anyone ever heard such twaddle or better, able to reference it?

The 30’s? Where? You would have been damn lucky to get regular meals of any kind in large parts of the world. Sounds pretty suspect. Your BS Meter is probably okay.

I have never heard of this, but it seems debunked by the existence of adults who persist in unhealthy diets despite having far more agency over their food choices, and knowledge of health consequences, than toddlers.

I did a bit of googling and found this: a Wall Street Journal article by Mark Schatzker quotes a “1939 study in which a group of toddlers were put in charge of feeding themselves” but doing some digging, the author of this article finds that it’s pretty much BS:

I remember reading that WSJ article when it was published. I tracked down 1939 article by Davis and didn’t find it very convincing, largely because there were no really unhealthy foods available to the children. There were “sweet foods” but that just means fruit, and not, as I’d assumed, things like candy and ice cream. I also found her 1928 article which I didn’t read before today.

“One child with a severe vitamin D deficiency even drank cod liver oil of his own volition until he was cured.”

Based on that statement alone from the study, there’s a high probability of bullshit.

There are people who are amazingly credulous about children possessing extraordinary levels of innate wisdom and kindness compared to adults, and I suspect this “researcher” may have conned herself based on similar beliefs.

A modern equivalent of the idea that sentient creatures instinctively are drawn to eat what’s good for them, is the claim that animals (wlld and domestic) will avoid genetically modified foods in favor of “natural” ones. Support for this idea comes from unverifiable anecdotes, but not good science.

“Cured” of what? Most people are seriously deficient in Vitamin D what are currently assessed as recommended baseline levels but have no clue because it doesn’t have any obvious health impacts. Anyone who has been forced to consume cod liver oil by itself will attest to the fact that it is not palatable and certainly not a substance a child would voluntarily ingest for pleasure or instinctual health benefit.

This claim is nonsense, as is that children will select ‘healthy’ food versus that with refined sugars. Aside from honey, humans do not have access to refined sugars in the wild and there is no neurological ‘brake’ to cause people to not overconsume them; indeed, the impulse to consume foods with high sugar content is driven by an evolutionary impulse to consume sugar-containing foods whenever they can because of how rarely the occur (essentially only in fruiting plants) and the obvious nutritional benefits to someone on a sustenance diet. Total bullshit.


My mom told the doctor she craved celery; he told her it was rich in potassium. He prescribed a potassium supplement and she stopped craving it. I thought the idea we’re born with senses that will tell us what we’re missing and we’ll gravitate toward a food that has it…maybe we’ll have some trial and error, but once we find it, it will taste really good, satisfying.

I assumed it came from something evolutionary, like this:

Wolves are notorious for the unique order in which they consume their prey. Shortly after the kill, a wolf will tear open the animal’s abdominal cavity and consume the organs. The “prized meat,” which is consumed first, includes the liver, heart, kidneys, spleen, and other vital organs. Contrary to modern day hunters and most human carnivores, wolves will leave the lean whole muscle meat for scavenger animals to consume as carrion. Perhaps by observing wolves or through deeply encoded instinct, our human ancestors ate the same way. In particular, the liver, heart, and visceral fats were cherished as the most sacred. The lean meats prized by modern humans (filet mignons, rib eyes, and sirloins) were fed to dogs or left for other scavengers to consume.

More about the nutrition of organ meats

Organ ‘meats’ such as the kidneys, liver, pancreas, thymus, et cetera are full of nutrients but also flavor, including that from minerals, carbohydrates, et cetera, as well as innate enzymes that can aid in digestion. By comparison, muscle and associated connective tissues are relatively flavorless until cooked and are difficult to digest in unprepared form. There are naturally some micronutrients that people and animals crave—in particular, salts that have numerous nutritional and biochemical functions in the body—but that doesn’t mean that your cravings are all for nutritionally valuable foods, as evidenced by modern diets which are full of processed foods not found in nature; even those ‘natural’ foods you find in the produce section and cuts of animal meat at the butcher counter are a result of thousands of years of cultivating and breeding for foods that are more easily grown and husbanded to provide denser calorific value and more appealing color and flavor).

Your body ‘knows what it needs’ only in the sense that you have been conditioned to like certain things, and specific deficiencies will result in cravings that may or may not satisfy those missing nutrients.


I like Paul McKenna. I am much less enamoured of BS. I’m trying to think about the simple mechanics of getting a bunch of toddlers to visit some sort of Ponderosa style buffet every time they happen to be hungry. “Mungo’s had enough fried chicken and sundaes. He’s been filling up on okra and radicchio more recently.”

I don’t know about humans, but I have a sheep rancher friend who swears by free choice minerals. Instead of what sheep managers usually do, put out a mineralized salt block, she puts out tubs of loose, separate minerals. Salt, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, but all kinds of stuff – like ten things. I forget what all. Most being toxic in quantity. She said the sheep eat different minerals at different times of the year, and at different points in the breeding cycle. They don’t overdose. They also are outside year around, on square miles of grass – something most sheep managers do not do either. They lamb outside, only coming under a roof to be sheared once a year. This is in Saskatchewan, not known for kindly weather. I’m just saying it is a whole management system, might not work for confined animals. But it speaks to the point that animals in a rather natural state might indeed eat “what’s good for them”.

I can’t imagine any parent of toddlers thinking there is any truth to this story.

My mother tells the story (and since it’s my mother, retells it ad nauseum) that she read Doctor Spock’s book when we were young, and that he said “Let your children eat whatever they want, they’ll naturally eat healthy food.”

Her pronouncement, that she tacks onto the ending of the story (at least a hundred times over the last fifty years) is that we of course ate sugary and fatty foods, so that’s why we’re picky eaters and fat. She claims she finally threw out Dr. Spock’s book, brought down the hammer, and raised us right.

Just for the record, I’m the least picky person I know, with a great BMI. but that’s not the point, it’s that I’ve never found the Spock passage that says that.

ETA: Aha! Found Spock mentioned in a critique of a less-than-rigorous study ("“The self-selection of diets by young children”) by Clara Davis. He believed it, referred to it, and did indeed write:

A mother can trust an unspoiled child’s appetite to choose a wholesome diet if she serves him a reasonable variety and balance of those natural and unrefined foods which he himself enjoys eating at present…

Just a few points…

The results were astonishing. Instead of binging on the sweetest foods, the toddlers were drawn to the foods that best nourished them. They ate more protein during growth spurts and more carbs and fat during periods of peak activity.

When exactly are the toddlers not on a growth spurt? Aren’t most non-meaty foods essentially carbs and fat? The sweet food listed was bananas, and they are a variety of foods.

After an outbreak of mononucleosis, curiously, they consumed more raw beef, carrots and beets.

They are feeding steak tartare and raw beef to kids?

One child with a severe vitamin D deficiency even drank cod liver oil of his own volition until he was cured.

The discovery of vitamins is pretty recent. Maybe there even was a blood test for vitamin D in the 1930s but even if so, I doubt it was done on these children. Fish oil tastes pretty bad and the only place I have seen it consumed in buffets was in Iceland.

By the end of the experiment, one doctor was so impressed with the toddlers’ health that he described them as “the finest group of specimens” he’d ever seen in their age group.

This is purple praise prose of particularly pompous proportions.

I don’t remember this, but as a toddler I apparently perceived myself to have an aftershave deficiency and drank some. My parents–not trusting in my native ability to police my health–had my stomach pumped.

I told my mom/doctor that I liked chewing on the points of my shirt collar. She told me that I had pica, and prescribed iron supplements. I stopped chewing on my clothes.

Pregnancy cravings (like most food cravings) pass. Celery isn’t particularly high in potassium compared to other fruits and vegetables - tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, carrots, yams, bananas, raisins, oranges, peaches, etc all have more. Sounds like confirmation bias.

Most pregnant women are most deficient in iron. However, they rarely eat airplanes, like that guy in Guinness.

Well, to be fair, the list of foods the kids got to choose from had no refined sugars. No candy, cake, cookies, donuts, nothing like that, in fact all were what today most would call “natural foods”, the only thing i saw which was manufactured was “Ry- Krisp” .

This experiment may be described briefly as that of (1) allowing newly weaned
infants to choose their own foods in such quantities as they may desire
fairly wide range of commonly used natural food materials, unmixed, u
soned and unaltered except, in the case of some, by cooking in the si
manner, and (2) assembling data on the food consumed and the condition of the

So, based upon the parameters, sure.

Given such a choice, the kids likely ate a pretty healthy variety- since that was all they had to choose from.

I’d heard of pica in a psychology class. I never knew it could be related to an iron deficiency.

In our house we would have had…potatoes and bananas (only) from that list. She wasn’t big on fresh fruits and vegetables. Her go-to recipe for veggies was open the can, pour contents in pan, boil, serve. But celery was at hand, in any case.

I know she took blood pressure medicine for many years. I found this:

Two of the major classes, thiazide diuretics and loop diuretics , tend to lower potassium levels in the blood.