Mindful Eating for a Healthy Weight for Kids

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Many parents who have kids who struggle with weight are at a loss about what to do about it.  Parents definitely want to help their kids get to a healthy weight, but are bombarded with different diets, weight loss advice, and weight loss products.  What works for adults typically does not work for kids.

What if the rise in childhood obesity was directly correlated with the rise in our modern distractions?  After all, we are more distracted than ever.  Never before in human history have we been eating with so many things competing for our attention.  As a result, we are eating more calories than we could ever need.   Simply reconnecting with your food and eating without distraction can result in eating less food, while being MORE satisfied.

Practicing mindful eating can improve so many other areas of a persons life, and teach kids skills that will help them be healthier for the rest of their life.

What is mindful eating?

So often in eating, there is no pause. We see a cookie on the counter and, before we know it, we’ve devoured it. Without noticing, it slips down our throats. Eating the cookie happens without us being aware or present, so we decide to eat another cookie, and another. We need more cookies to be satisfied because there is no memory of the moment we enjoyed the first cookie.  Mindful living gives us the opportunity to pause between a stimulus and a response, and fully participate in the moment. To quote the great Victor Frankl:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Mindful eating is honoring that space between wanting a piece of food and eating it.  It’s seeing your meal on your plate and then eating it with intention, being full present for the food. Mindful eating differs from intuitive eating.  Intuitive eating asks of your body what it wants to eat, and what it needs. To which most kids think, I need cookies! LOL.  But mindful eating is different.  Instead, it focuses on the practice of eating, or what you are doing while you are eating healthy food.

6 Steps to Mindful Eating

These are the 6 steps that are the most helpful in order to practice mindfulness at each meal.

  1. Establishing three periods of time during the day for intentional, purposeful eating.  Do you remember when your parents or grandparents taught you to eat three times a day? And then the fitness “experts” came in, telling us we were destroying our metabolism and we should be eating 6 meals per day!  And then that turned into eating ALL day.  The fastest way to not be present with your food is to graze on food all day, and never sit down to a meal that has a beginning and an end.
  2. Creating a space during meals free of common distractions. (no phone, books, computer, magazine, TV, etc). This can be uncomfortable!  Many older kids like to scroll on their device or have a show on the t.v. while they are eating.  Putting away the devices and reading material is critical for eating mindfully.
  3. Chew slowly and experience each bite.  If you are too busy to eat your food slowly, you are too busy.  Put the food down, and wait until you have time to sit down and fully chew your food, even if you think you are starving.  I’ve timed a lot of meals, and most meals, chewed slowly takes fewer than 10 minutes.
  4. Identify the tastes, flavors, and texture of each bite.  This might be my favorite part!  When really tasting your food, you will be surprised to find healthy food delicious and junk food less appealing than you thought.
  5. Complete eating each bite before you fill your fork again. It goes without saying, shoveling more food into your mouth before you’ve finished the last bite is not being mindful. 
  6. Assess hunger mid-meal to see if you are full, almost full, or ready to stop. You don’t have to finish your meal, ever. This is where you listen to your body and let it decide if you’ve had enough.

Making mindful eating work during a meal

  • Take a deep breath midway through the meal.
  • Determine if sufficient time has passed to send the hunger and satiety signals to your brain.
  • Put your fork down, and take a large drink of water.
  • Check in with your belly. What are you feeling? Are your pants getting tighter? Is the belly distended uncomfortably?
  • Evaluate whether or not your meal becomes less satisfying as you continue to eat. It’s common for the first few bites, when we are the hungriest, to be the most pleasurable of the meal. As we get full, the pleasure diminishes. When the meal is no longer delivering the same pleasure, it’s a signal to our body that we may be close to finished.
  • Identify distractions. Are you still paying attention to your meal, or has your mind wandered to other things? Are you allowing yourself to absorb other distractions in your environment that you may not have control over? Only when you are paying attention can you fully analyze if you are still hungry enough to finish your meal.

Try these 4 daily practices that can help your kids become better at being mindful with eating and food. 

  1. Make a plan – Set regular meal times so that your kids know what to expect.  Don’t have an open pantry policy where they can snack whenever they want. 
  2. Be Active –  This is a great habit to get in as a family.  Go for walks, hikes, bike rides, or even play soccer in the backyard together.  
  3. Develop Good Coping Skills – When kids use food as their coping skill to things like boredom, stress, sadness, loneliness, it can help in the moment.  But really it is creating a habit that doesn’t help solve the actual problem and it can turn into a vicious cycle.  Start with identifying the emotion that they are experiencing when they turn to food in this way.  After you have identified it, come up with an alternative coping skill that can turn into their go-to habit instead of food. 
  4. Write in a Mindful journal – This can help kids reduce stress, boost their mood, and understand their emotions which in turn can lead to less emotional eating. 

Best books about mindful eating

These books have been inspirational to me as I’ve learned to practice mindful eating.

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