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Mindful Eating, Powered by Nemours Children's Health System

Mindful Eating

Why do we eat?

While there are many answers to this question, one of the most important reasons for eating is to nourish our bodies. Think of your body as a car. Cars need gas to drive us to our destinations. Gas is the fuel that allows cars to function, and without it they cannot run. Like cars, our body will not run, or run well, without proper fuel in the form of food.

What is Mindful Eating?

Put simply, mindful eating is the act of paying attention to your food choices, how you are eating, and how your body feels when eating. Paying attention to your body begins with listening to the signals it displays before a meal. Hunger signals may include any of the following: growling stomach, low energy, irritability, maybe feeling lightheaded. Listening for these cues can help prevent us from eating out of emotions such as boredom, stress, anxiety, anger, fear, loneliness, frustration, etc.

The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating, which can be defined as eating when you’re not hungry, eating while distracted, eating fast, or continuing to eat even after feeling full. See tips below on how to practice mindful eating with your family.

Why is mindfulness at mealtime so important?

Practicing mindfulness can help us become more in tune with our bodies. By paying attention to what our body needs we can prevent over eating, and instead feel comfortable and satisfied after a meal. Over time, continuously overeating can lead to weight gain and impact our body in negative ways.

Avoid being part of the “clean plate club.” We are born with the ability to know when we are full, but this ability eventually fades away if we continuously ignore the feeling of fullness in order to finish what is on our plate. Consider letting your child plate his or her own meals based on their hunger and do not encourage them to keep eating once they feel full.

How to practice mindful eating

Mindful eating starts before we even start eating. This practice begins when we plan and purchase our food or ingredients and continues through the steps of cooking and eating, and even after the meal is over.

Plan ahead

Make eating at home more convenient by making a list of meals you plan to have each week. This will also make for a more efficient grocery trip! Consider preparing some meals or items in advance (crock pot meals, casseroles, hard boiled eggs, etc.).

Consider where your food is coming from

Think about the process that was involved in getting the food on your plate. Think about who harvested the food, who packaged it, and who stocked it on the shelves at the store. Who prepared the food? Maybe it was a stranger, loved ones, or even yourself. Thinking about where our food comes from can make us more grateful.

Make time for family meals

We know that family meals help to foster healthier eating habits, as well as better academic performance and many other benefits. Make mealtime enjoyable. Consider having each person at the table share something about their day, or tell funny stories. Make dinners interactive by getting the whole family involved in preparing their part of the meal (personal pizzas or tacos with various toppings). Try foods from different parts of the world and talk about the culture in which that meal originated.

Eliminate distractions while eating

Anything that keeps your mind focused elsewhere while eating is considered a distraction and prevents you from being in tune with your body. This may include television, phones, tablets, video games, or even any type of multitasking. Make time to eat in a calm environment.

Eat slowly and use all five of your senses

  • We eat with our eyes What does the food look like? Is your plate full of color, or maybe looking a little bland?
  • What do you smell? Did you know that warm food creates a stronger scent than cold or raw foods?
  • Pay attention to how the food feels. If you are eating “finger food,” how does the food feel in your hands? How does the food feel when you are chewing it? Is it crunchy, chewy, soft, hard, rough, smooth, wet, dry? Preparing foods different ways can change the texture; for example, cooked vegetables are usually softer than raw vegetables.
  • Listen to your food. What sounds do you hear when you bite into it and chew it? What sound does it make when you stir it, cut it, peel it or break it?
  • How does the food taste? There are five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory. Think about the combination of tastes in your dish, or notice the taste of one particular item. Enjoy every bite and savor the flavor!

Here are some slowing techniques for fast eaters:

  • Take smaller bites.
  • Cut your food one piece at a time.
  • Practice chewing each bite at least 20 times.
  • Try using your non-dominant hand to eat.
  • Place the utensil (or finger food) down after each bite. Completely chew and swallow before picking it back up.
  • Try using chop sticks! This can be a fun and challenging way to slow down.

Wait 15 minutes before getting seconds

Research shows that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize you are full. Eating fast or reaching for seconds immediately after finishing your first plate may cause you to miss this message and over eat. If your child still feels hungry after waiting at least 15 minutes upon finishing their meal, limit seconds to non-starchy vegetables or fruit. These items are high in fiber and healthy nutrients, but low in calories.

Encourage your child to be a part of the entire mindful eating process, from meal planning and food shopping to the mealtime tips mentioned above!

Mary-Catherine Perry, RD, LDN

About Mary-Catherine Perry, RD, LDN

Mary-Catherine Perry, RD, LDN, is a Clinical Dietitian in the Weight Management/Bariatric Clinic at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, Del.