Transform family mealtimes
WDo you remember what you ate for breakfast? How it tasted, and how you felt afterwards? Mum of three and award-winning well-being specialist, Lauren Parsons, explores the life-giving benefits of mindful eating, and how to cultivate an attitude of mindfulness in our kids.
ith the increased prevalence of adult and childhood obesity, eating disorders and countless questionable diets on offer, it’s important for us as parents to set a healthy example in our attitude towards food. Teaching our children how to eat mindfully is one of the best tools we can equip them with to ensure they develop healthy habits for life.
I first discovered mindful eating as a high school exchange student in France. After struggling with my weight due to mindlessly over-eating the delicious food, I found that by adopting the French attitude to food, I effortlessly got back to a healthy weight (a story you can read about in my latest book, Real Food Less Fuss). The secret was not changing what I ate, but simply shifting my perspective to keep things in balance and to eat guilt-free.
When it comes to nutrition, there is a lot of focus on what to eat and even more on what not to. However, what I have found, working with countless clients over the last 16 years, is that before you address the 'what', it is much more important to focus on the 'how'. Addressing how you eat is the starting point for real nourishment and happiness. The number one thing you can do to improve your eating, and as a result boost your health and feel fantastic, is to eat mindfully.
Often our eating habits and attitudes to food are developed and ingrained in us as children. It’s much easier to nurture a positive, relaxed relationship with food from a young age than it is to shift those behaviours later on. Role modelling mindful eating for your children will improve your health and happiness as well as theirs!
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating means paying full attention to what you are eating while you are eating it, and to how it makes you feel. Sounds pretty simple, right?
The challenge is that mindful eating requires us to focus and eliminate distractions. We are often so busy we feel pressed for time while eating. Many of us multi-task while eating, perhaps with TV, emails, social media, reading or even intense conversation, which means we rush through our meal hardly noticing what is passing our lips.
It’s strange, really, when you think about it. Why would you eat a meal without paying attention to it? Think about the last meal you ate. Where were you and what were you doing? Were you sitting down, did you eat it fast or slow and do you recall what each mouthful tasted like and how it made you feel? Why did you eat the way you did and is this your typical pattern? Because food is available in such abundance, many of us have lost touch with our natural hunger cues. Rather than eating to satisfy hunger and waiting until we are hungry again, we often eat purely out of habit and can snack mindlessly right throughout the day. This is not ideal for our digestive health nor for maintaining a healthy weight and body shape.
Over time, we can develop eating habits that don't serve us. However, we tend to keep these habits up simply out of routine or because we've never tried a different way. For example, we might associate food with certain activities such as eating ice cream while watching TV, snacking on cheese and crackers while preparing dinner or eating chips on a long drive in the car. We might always finish our plate, regardless of how full we feel or routinely have seconds even when we are no longer hungry. We might eat lunch standing, talking, walking, working or doing several other things because we feel rushed and overloaded.
All these habits affect our digestion, our satiety cues and the total amount of calories we consume. It is surprisingly easy to adjust your habits if you choose to do so. All it takes is a mindful approach, which starts by being intentional about how you eat. One of the best things we can do for our tummies and waistlines is to slow down and focus when we eat.
Switch off all electronic devices, large and small (or turn them to silent mode and put them out of sight). This makes a huge difference and role models the behaviour you expect if/when your children have their own phones.
Look at each forkful or spoonful of food before you eat it.
Savour each mouthful thinking about the different flavours you can taste. Play ‘games’ with your kids to guess what ingredients are in the meal. This is a fun start to food appreciation.
Avoid starting the next mouthful until the previous one is finished.
If you are talking, take extra care to savour each mouthful and don’t feel you have to rush in order to speak. table. Once you adopt this mindful approach, it will transform your eating and your life. When we slow down and eat more mindfully, we naturally regulate both the quality and quantity of our food intake. In short, it’s hard to overeat or to enjoy poor quality food when you eat mindfully. I invite you to try it for the next three days. Pay attention to how you feel and reflect on the difference it makes.
As you continue to focus on how you eat, what you eat will change too. If you eat processed foods, you will most likely notice they leave you feeling flat, lethargic and under-nourished. You will notice your body and soul desires to eat more real food that leaves you feeling vital and vibrant.
It’s also important to be mindful of our language when we speak about food. Teach your children that certain foods are super nutritious and will help them become strong and healthy and this is why we mostly eat these foods. Instead of labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, simply reinforce that we always make sure we eat enough nutritious food to fuel our body well. Remind your kids that while treats are tasty, they won’t feel good after having too many of them. These balanced, positive messages will help your kids avoid seeing certain foods as bad, and therefore feeling that they themselves are bad for eating them, later in life.
Gift your children with the ability to truly appreciate their food and this will become a life skill they will enjoy and pass on to the next generation. For more on mindful eating, overcoming cravings and practical ways to plan, cook and eat well, go to realfoodlessfuss.com and check out Lauren’s new book, Less Fuss – the ultimate time-saving guide to simplify your life and feel amazing every day.