Today, we are living in such a busy world, it is common to see most of us doing multiple tasks while eating such as reading, watching TV or talking on the phone…I too was doing this for many years until I realized that my stomach was suffering. Since I started to practice mindful eating, not only I have been at peace with my stomach, but also I eat less and enjoy my food more.
Mindless eating is perhaps one of the most common reasons for the current childhood and adult obesity epidemics. The solution lies in the art of mindful eating.
So what does mindful eating really mean? Mindful eating means to be in the present moment and pay attention to both internal and external cues that trigger eating, and also to focus on the food and eating process by engaging all your senses such as smell, taste, sight, and feeling. Through this process, you become more aware of when and where you are eating, as well as what you are eating and how much you are eating. Mindful eating helps you reconnect with your body and mind, increase the pleasure of eating, and reduce overeating and emotional eating. [2 3]
This process of mindful eating is our natural physiological response to food. Infants know when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. However, as we grow up, this natural ability is affected by many external factors, such as influences from parents and environmental triggers.
Mindful eating not only plays an important role in childhood obesity prevention but also helps children improve their pleasure with food- to taste more and eat less. Furthermore, researchers suggest that mindful eating helps decrease cortisol levels and reduce anxiety.[4 5]
Here are some cool tips for practicing mindful eating.
Tip 1: Enjoy the present moment of eating. The whole family should sit together, focus on eating and avoid multi-tasking. Limit distractions such as watching TV, playing computer games, eating on the go, and so on. Encourage your children to eat slowly, really taste, smell and enjoy the food they are eating.
Tip 2: Pay attention to your body’s signals and honor those signals. It is not a good idea to force your children to eat everything or to clean their plate. Let your children experience the feeling of fullness and practice mindful eating. Children who are forced to eat more than they choose to have an increased risk of developing eating disorders later on in life.
Tip 3: Be aware of your own beliefs that may influence your children’s eating habits. For example, you may think that skipping breakfast is ok if you have a busy schedule. In fact, breakfast is the most important meal.
You can read about shocking diet myths that can challenge your beliefs to find out more.
Tip 4: Plan your meals ahead, make a shopping list, and commit to buying only what is on the list. This will help you make healthy food choices and limit emotional shopping from visual cues or promotional sales for junk food.
Tip 5: Pay attention to environmental triggers, a plate full of pastries may trigger food cravings even you are not hungry. One solution is to limit junk food at home, another way is to teach children to be aware of those triggers, you can advise them that before rushing to the food, they should pause and make a conscious decision and ask themselves why they want to eat.
Tip 6: Emotional eating is another common trigger for overeating. Mindfulness can help you recognize those triggers and allow you to develop other strategies for managing your stress and emotions instead of craving comfort food.
Tip 7: Practice compassion and forgiveness. It is not a good idea to blame your children or yourself when there are setbacks. When they don’t have to deal with feeling bad about themselves, it is easier for them to get back on track.
Tip 8: Practice pacing yourself and enjoy one bite at a time. Model for your children the importance of chewing food thoroughly and finishing one bite before taking another bite.
Tip 9: Try chopsticks if your family loves sushi, it not only helps slow down eating but also improves co-ordination between the mind and body.
Tip 10: Downsize the portions of meals you serve and save leftovers. If you cook a large meal, you can always pre-portion them and save extra portions or leftovers in the fridge or freezer to use later.
Tip 11: Encourage your children to have a healthy snack between meals, and not to skip breakfast. Studies suggest that skipping breakfast actually affects children’s learning abilities and cause them to be overweight.
You can read how to stop the uphill battles against childhood obesity to find out more.
Tip 12: If you are experiencing food cravings for a certain food, pause and ask yourself a few questions: Why do I want to eat it? How do I plan to eat it? And where does the energy from the food go? This process puts a pause between the trigger and response, and will help manage food cravings effectively. Doing this practice is another way you can be a good role model for your children.
Tip 13: Teach children to love their food and express their gratitude for the food they are eating. Is it delicious and nutritious? Does it look colorful and presentable?
Tip 14: Plan your meal ahead, and this will help prevent overeating unhealthy food before the meal is ready. A slow cooker can save you lots of time and help you prepare a healthy meal.
Tip 15: Encourage your children to explore new foods and appreciate all food equally. Make food plates more colorful with a variety of vegetables and foods to increase visual cues. Food that is appreciated is more likely to deliver all of its nutrients to the body.
Tip 16: Enjoy eating meals in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. Talk about food and focus on the food; where does it come from? How does it grow? And how nutritious it is! Avoid stressful topics.
Tip 17: Encourage your children to participate in food preparations such as washing fruits and vegetables, mixing up salads, etc. This will help children appreciate their food even more.
Tip 18: If your children are eating too fast, show them how to slow down by putting their fork down between bites, show them how to eat slowly and enjoy each bite.
Tip 19: If your children are not hungry, do not force them to eat a few more bites. Ask them to be in touch with their body, how does their stomach feel? Let eating happen naturally.
Here is a mindful eating exercise you can practice with your children:
- Choose a small piece of food such as a slice of fresh apple, a raisin or a small cookie, there is no restriction on the type of the food you choose.
- First, look at the food and feel it with your fingers. What is the color of the food? What about the texture? Is it hard or soft? What kind of shape does it have?
- Pay attention to the smell of the food, is it fragrant or spicy?
- Now close your eyes, imagine how the food tastes in your mouth. Is it sweet or sour? Is it dry or moist? Is it soft or hard? And what does chewing the food feel like?
- Take one bite of the food, chew the food very slowly, focus on the sensations of chewing and tasting, engage all your senses at a time and use one sense to experience different aspects of the food. How does the texture of the food feel in your mouth? Is there any fragrance from the food? Does the intensity of the flavor change from moment to moment? As the food reaches your throat, pay attention to the sensations and process of swallowing.
- After you finish the first bite, take a second bite and repeat the same process until you finish the food.
The power of mindfulness eating exercise can affect your eating habits significantly when you begin to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations mindfully, which all contribute to the pleasure to enjoy the food. Many people have been missing mindful eating practice and this contributes to many food-related issues such as food cravings, binge eating, emotional eating and eating disorders.[7 8 9 10]
- Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complement Ther Med. 2010;18(6):260-264.
- Timmerman GM, Brown A. The effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management in women. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2012;44(1):22-28.
- Kristeller JL, Wolever RQ. Mindfulness-based eating awareness training for treating binge eating disorder: the conceptual foundation. Eat Disord. 2011;19(1):49-61.
- Daubenmier J, Kristeller J, Hecht FM, et al. Mindfulness intervention for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: an exploratory randomized controlled study. J Obes. 2011;2011:651936.
- Jennifer Daubenmier, Jean Kristeller, et al. Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study. Journal of Obesity Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 651936, 13 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2011/651936
- Gilbert, D. D. (2010). Mindfulness and health behaviors. M.A. Dissertation, Department of Clinical Psychology, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT.
- Rott, C. A., Seaborn, C., Schmidt, C., Tafalla, R., Pejsa, J., & Evers, N. (2008). An eight-week mindful eating education program increases self-efficacy and weight loss. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108, 3.
- Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21130363, accessed on 12 September 2014
- Mathieu J. (2009). What should you know about mindful and intuitive eating? Journal of American Dietetic Association. 2009 Dec;109(12):1982-7.
- Palmer, Sharon (2009). Food for Thought: Exploring the Potential of “Mindful Eating”. Environmental Nutrition, Vol. 32 Issue 6, p1-4, 2p.
“”The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor.” ~Chinese Proverb”–