By Jacob Gerdes, Arizona State Nutrition Communications Student
No matter who we are, where we have come from, or where we are going we all have one thing in common and that is we need food to survive. Some of us have never had to worry where our food comes from and some deal with the insecurity of not knowing the source of our next meal. Despite whether or not food has been abundant in our lives, we each develop a specific relationship with food. Even children develop a relationship with food that remains dynamic, as they get older.
These relationships with food can be good or bad depending on the specific events that occur in our lifetimes. These relationships can greatly affect our lives in a negative and positive manner, in turn allowing us to thrive or causing us to suffer. In many cases, issues of obesity are caused by the relationship we have with our food, or more on point, the lack of understanding we have with our food. Many times our relationship with food can be mindless; eventually becoming a behavior partnered with some major health implications that have a widespread affect.
Obesity within the United States is a growing epidemic that, directly or indirectly, effect’s all of us. A similar unfortunate circumstance is that childhood obesity is on the rise; unfairly, in many cases, these children who are affected are raised and taught in an environment where they are conditioned to become obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) states “Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.” The Center for Disease control (CDC) supports this claim with statistical evidence that 1 in 6 children are obese and this number continues to grow.
In many cases the issue of mindful eating affect obese individuals and is stem from a lack of understanding the relationship we have developed with food or from a development of a negative relationship. The relationship that we all have with food will be passed on to our children whether or not that relationship is healthy.
How do we combat a growing issue in the U.S. where people who do not necessarily know they are increasing their children’s likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, or type-2 diabetes? One major key to solving this problem is to pass on the practice of mindful eating.
So, what is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is not a diet, rather it is a practice where you aim to develop the relationship you have with food into a healthy, reasonable, and enjoyable act. Try and think back to the last time you ate your absolute favorite meal or even just a delicious meal. Can you remember the flavor? How about the texture? Or the fragrance? How long did it take for you to eat it? How did you feel after the meal? Were you satisfied or were you overly full? These are all aspects of mindful eating that we want to be able to become more perceptive too, allowing us to understand how we feel before, during, and after a meal.
How often do you prepare a meal, sit in silence at a table, and really taste the food in front of you? Through the practice of mindful eating we can create a more enjoyable food experience and also become more aware of whether or not we have had enough to eat, avoiding the consumption of excess calories that lead to weight gain. This is a practice we want to pass down to our own children to help them develop a deeper understanding of their hunger, satiety, and health.
In a recent study conducted by the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, researchers found that mindfulness-based eating awareness increased the consumption of healthy foods, and level of exercise activity. Both of these outcomes resulted in a decrease in weight of the children that were a part of the experiment group compared to the control group.
A key concept of mindful eating is being aware of whether you are actually hungry or if the desire for food stems from somewhere, such as an emotion or from being unaware of true hunger. Eating can be an emotional experience; sometimes we eat things we know we shouldn’t or we binge; after the initial joy of eating that pint of ice cream, we beat ourselves up. Mindfulness allows us to understand ourselves, and that we are imperfect. We must be able to forgive and not worry about our mistakes. A cycle that leads us to create unhealthy eating habits is when we restrict our desires of a certain food, then we breakdown and binge, get upset that we binged, and restrict once again restarting the cycle of emotional, uncontrolled eating.
There are many different exercises that can be found online of how to develop a practice of mindful eating but if you want a simple place to begin, try preparing a meal, eating this food with your family and discuss the flavors, smells, and texture of the food. Dr. Brittanny Boulanger from Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates discusses how these practices will help children “better understand what they are eating.” This will get them thinking about what they eat and why they are eating it. The second step is to have the children clearly voice if they are full while they are eating and then to have them stop. These basics can help lay the foundation to more complex aspects of mindful eating like portion control as well as understanding a healthy balance of foods, both good and bad.
Now next time you eat, enjoy the food and the fact that you are able to be eating. Being grateful is another key aspect of mindful eating and can truly put you in the right state of mind.
To good health and enjoyable eating!
- WHO. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health: Childhood Overweight and obesity. World Health Organization. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood/en/
- CDC. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity: Childhood Overweight and Obesity. Center for Disease Control. November 9 2015. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/
- Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “Mindfulness-based eating awareness helps adolescents eat healthier foods, be more active.” ScienceDaily. April 2016. URL: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160404111519.htm
- Boulanger B. SMArt Kids Practice Mindful Eating. Harvard Vangaurd Medical Associates. April 4 2013. Accessed April 2016. URL: http://blog.harvardvanguard.org/2013/04/smart-kids-practice-mindful-eating/
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