Mindfulness means deliberately paying attention to the present moment. This seems obvious; don’t we all pay attention to what we are doing, especially eating? The answer is a surprising no. We usually do not pay deliberate attention, even when eating our favorite foods.
Brian Wansink, Ph.D., the author of “Mindless Eating,” researches how paying only slight attention to hunger, fullness, and food cues leads to unplanned eating, overeating, and weight gain. In one study, Dr. Wansink showed that college students paid more attention to how full/empty a soup bowl was than to actual hunger when deciding they were full. Unbeknownst to them, half of the students ate from a bowl that automatically refilled itself, thus, the level of soup never diminished. Those students ate significantly more than students with a regular bowl, overriding their hunger/fullness cues, mindlessly continuing to eat based on the visual cue that food was available. Dr. Wansink called this “mindless eating” because people tended to eat on the basis of a small amount of information (like the visual cue of soup in the bowl), instead of the whole picture including hunger, taste, and other factors.
Mindful eating is grounded in all of the sensory information available in the present moment. In addition, it is a conscious choice to eat nutritious foods, in moderation, paying attention to feelings of hunger and satisfaction. Research has shown that mindful eating supports weight loss and appropriate weight maintenance. It is a habit that encourages children to eat less and to stop eating when they are satisfied, not stuffed.
Mindful eating can begin with a blessing or prayer that acknowledges the gift of the food, the earth that provided it and the people who prepared it. A blessing can set the slow pace required for a mindful meal.
Engage children in food preparation and presentation; paying attention to these details increases their investment in the meal.
Turn off the television and other electronic devices that can distract from the dining experience. Mindful eating takes place when people engage only in eating and conversation at meal time.
Put down utensils between bites, chew thoroughly, and swallow deliberately. Make sure that children resist the urge to add more food to their mouths before swallowing. Overloading leads to overeating.
As you are eating, identify and discuss food flavors (herbs, spices, other flavors), and teach children to pay attention to the aromas and textures of the food.
If children ask for seconds, make sure they take a moment to consider if they are really experiencing stomach hunger.
Mindful eating can reduce the tendency to overeat. When people eat slowly they allow time for the hormones that signal fullness to arrive from the stomach to the brain. Receiving the hormone signal helps people stop eating before they are stuffed. Parents can help children eat mindfully when they reduce meal time distractions, encourage a slower eating pace, and increase attention paid to food flavors and textures.
Written by Lisa Hinz PhD
Written on Feb 28, 2014
Last updated on Feb 28, 2014