Mindful Eating for Your Family
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Are you a mindful eater? You may think that by making good decisions about what you eat makes you are a mindful eater. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Your body desires a level of awareness or presence to the eating and meal-time routine. Being aware of how you go about meal planning and eating is equally important as the choices you make.
Mindful eating includes full sensory engagement to savor the eating experience, awareness of one’s mental and emotional states as well as internal cues related to eating behavior. From a sensory standpoint, think about what it is that you enjoy when you go out to eat. Perhaps it is the dim lighting, the feeling of crisp linens on the table, the place setting, the music, smell of the food, the way the food looks, tastes, etc. all these things make the eating experience pleasurable. Maybe you want to create or replicate that environment to enjoy meals at home. When you are aware of your mental or emotional state (i.e.: stress, anger, frustration) you are able recognize that you are not hungry rather than mindlessly snacking on food out of habit. In addition, when you are in tune with your body’s internal cues you know when it’s time to eat due to hunger and when to stop when you are satiated.
Let’s see how mindful you are in regard to your eating practices. Think about the ways in which go about eating. Do you squeeze in eating a meal while doing other activities such as working on the computer, talking on the phone, etc.? Do you eat under stressful conditions such as being pressed for time or while dealing with work related deadlines? Are you overly engaged in activities and not even realize that you have not eaten all day until you become ravenous? If you said “No” to all of these questions, then you are doing a great job in regard to mindful eating- Congratulations! It is more likely however, that you said “Yes” to one or more of the questions. It’s easy to become caught up in life and not even recognize what you are doing to yourself when you engage in these daily practices. These practices result in digestive upset, decreased absorption of nutrients & overeating which all leads to weight gain.
Now that you are becoming aware of some of your practices, it’s important to realize that your children are watching and learning from you. You serve as a role model. Teaching healthy eating habits at home can help your kids enjoy their food and prevent them from developing health conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Providing multiple opportunities to try a particular ‘unliked’ food, as well as, a variety of food based on color, taste, texture etc. is only a part in the development of good eating. The way in which you eat is just as important as what you eat. Exercising good practices promotes positive eating and well-being for you and your children.
Establishing good practices includes giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. In doing so, you are less likely to restrict your child’s food intake. When food is restricted, it can result in overeating (when it is offered or available) which promotes weight gain and can cause a pre-occupation with the restricted food over time. If you eat to satisfy hunger and value food for its nutritional value rather than using it as a reward or a way to cope with emotional distress, you are likely to monitor your child’s food intake. By monitoring food, it will reduce your child’s risk of impulsive eating or overeating in response to emotions. In addition, when you use contextual skills, such as eating regular meals and choosing foods that nutritious you provide those opportunities to your child as well.
Here are some suggestions that you can implement in your home:
Slow down and take time to eat. It takes 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. Eating slower, allows time for the signal to be send out and when you feel full you eat less. When you eat fast your body doesn’t have time to go through the natural signaling process causing you eat more. Putting your fork down between bites will automatically help slow you down.
Chew your food rather than eating in a hurry and swallowing food part whole. Chewing not only helps to break down food but it also mixes food with saliva to help moisten and breakdown food further. When food is chewed well it reduces food borne bacteria from entering your stomach. Overgrowth of bacteria can cause leaky gut, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Eliminate distractions and make eating its own activity. Electronic devices such as phones, iPads, and television are distractions that prevent you from being present during mealtime and likely to cause you to overeat. When you slow down and engage in the meal it reduces stress, prepares the body for digestion, and aids your metabolism to absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat. You may even want to try making the kitchen area an electronic free zone and get back to engaging in conversation.
Keep healthy foods and snacks readily available and visible. Vegetables and fruits can be cut up and stored in clear containers in the refrigerator. They also should be incorporated in meals regularly.
Place snacks in small containers or bags to help stick within the serving size. When snacks are eaten directly out of the bag or box it’s easy to eat more than 1 portion/serving. Extra calories can easily sneak in when eating 2 or 3 times the portion size.
Engage kids in grocery shopping and meal planning. Kids can learn to read the labels at the store and discover how much sugar is in processed and prepared foods. When kids are active participants in meal planning, they can provide input as to what they are willing to try or what they like to eat. They can also learn how to create well balanced meals with protein, carbohydrates, fats, etc.
Drinking water is also important not only for hydration, but also in stabilizing blood sugar levels. We often mistake the body’s cravings as a need to snack rather than a need to drink more water. Drinking water can also eliminate the foggy state or feeling of being unfocused that can occur when you are mildly dehydrated. YES, it’s true- try switching out a cup of coffee for a glass of water and see how you feel.