Fostering Mindful Eating
Were you ever surprised to notice the bottom of a bucket of popcorn at the movies, or wished you could have another scoop of ice cream, or felt extremely stuffed at the end of a meal feeling not too good about it? These are examples of mindless eating. Eating mindlessly is one of the most common underlying reasons for unhealthy eating practices. So the key is to get out of the “autopilot” mode and into the mode of “purposeful awareness” when eating.
Mindful eating is the awareness of eating with all of your senses. It means being in the present moment while eating and giving it your full attention. When you are mindful of what you eat, you are aware of what you are eating, how much, how you have eaten, if you are truly hungry, how food smells, tastes, looks and feels. When you linger in the delicious art of eating, you benefit in many ways; mindful eating fosters consumption of appropriate amounts of food, increases the sheer pleasure of eating, and decreases the urge to overeat. It also lessens the chances of eating for stress, boredom or other emotions. So in our current childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic, why not teach yourself and your children to be mindful when eating.
Mindful eating is not hard to understand, it just takes daily practice. Teaching your kids to eat mindfully starts with teaching yourself first. It means every time you sit down to a meal, you actually pay attention to how your food looks, feels, tastes. You give gratitude for how this food came to your table, how it was grown, produced, and shipped. You appreciate the many people who were involved in getting the food to your plate from the farmers, to the harvesters, to the packers, shippers, and retailers. You appreciate how much time and effort it took to prepare the final dish in front of you. Placing this awareness at the forefront of your attention, allows you to slow down and appreciate what you are eating. Each bite should be savoured extracting all the flavours, until you feel the natural cue to swallow. You give time to notice when this cue happens, and then you proceed to take the next bite of food. You notice the colours, texture, and tastes. Eating slowly in this way also allows you to be aware when you have had enough to eat. You will more likely eat to a normal level of fullness, which should feel comfortable, and not at all heavy in your stomach. Even if there is food remaining on your plate, you feel satisfied and adequately satiated.
Now you can role-model mindful eating for your children. Children are naturally born with physiological instincts to eat this way; it is ingrained in their DNA. Infants know when they are hungry and stop when they are full. They suckle on milk and naturally pull away from the nipple when they have had enough as they feel secure that they will be nurtured once again when they are hungry. As a child grows, this natural appetite control centre can be slowly unlearned by environmental factors. This can happen for many reasons, such as when a parent tries to get her child to eat more than the child wants by forcing and strongly encouraging them to take a few more bites. Children who are forced to eat more have a higher risk of overeating or under-eating later on in life.
So what is the best way to foster mindful eating for your children? Here are some tips that, if used consistently, can transform your child into a mindful, healthier eater.
- Turn off the devices at mealtime – that includes TV, video games, handheld devices, and even books and toys at meal time. This allows more attention to what is offered and eaten.
- Eat together as a family, and role model each other’s mindful eating practices.
- Talk about the food. For young children teach colours, shapes, sizes, temperature etc. For older kids, talk about where the food comes from, how it’s grown, and what makes some foods more healthful than others.
- Get your children involved in selecting foods and in food preparation. Take your children grocery shopping – encourage them to pick out new fruit or vegetables to try. Have them wash produce, or mix the salad, or sprinkle on the parmesan. Getting your child to recognize the effort that goes into making a meal helps them to respect the value of food and eating.
- Make your plate colourful. A variety of vegetables and foods ensures more nutrients and enhances the visual enjoyment of eating.
- Never force, coerce, distract or tell your child to eat a few more bites. Let eating happen naturally.
- If you think your child is overeating, teach him that his tummy should feel comfortable not heavy or stuffed when he is done.
- Encourage your family to always eat at the table for all meals and snacks. Also creating a pleasant ambience at meals enhances the enjoyment of eating. So leave the homework or chores discussion after the meal is over.
- Put your fork down between bites to show your child how you eat slowly and really savour each bite.
- Be sure your child is not over hungry when she sits down to a meal. Healthy snacks after school (which include 1 or 2 foods) help to prevent over- and mindless eating.
Three important rules for teaching your kids mindful eating are:
BE a role model.
FOCUS on the entire food and eating experience.
PROMOTE self-regulation of eating