Have you ever found yourself just having chomped down your entire lunch in 5 minutes? Or realized that you and hubby have finished off dinner in 10 minutes flat? You may not be aware of how long you spend eating (next time, go ahead and time yourself, just for the heck of it). Fast eating prevents our metabolism and digestive process from functioning optimally, and can contribute to weight gain, indigestion, and a host of unwanted health conditions.
When we eat quickly or under stress, our digestion system shuts down. This is a natural part of our human biology—when under stress, our fight or flight response kicks in which prepares us to fight that tiger, or whatever predicament our ancestors found themselves in. Even if that enemy is simply now an overdue work deadline, or a pile of homework and chores waiting for us after dinner, our body does not know the difference. The stress response kicks in and the heart rate speeds up, blood pressure increases, respiration quickens, certain hormones flood the blood stream, and most critically, the digestive system shuts down. To metabolize food, our nervous system must be in a state known as ‘rest and digest’, which is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system.
So what does this mean for you and your family? It means, quite simply, slow down. Create rituals and relaxation around eating. Treat eating as a sacred, life-affirming activity. One of the most important habits we can foster to create health and radiance is the ability to eat slowly and mindfully. Your children will follow your lead.
Eating mindfully and with ease
The following are 10 tips to slow down around food, ramp up your awareness, and dive into pleasurable eating:
- Every time you eat, sit down. Even when the kids aren’t watching (and they usually are), model a relaxed and pleasurable feeling towards eating. Invite your children to sit down when eating or drinking as well. For toddlers, this can also serve as a basic chaos reduction strategy and safety tool. Just like toddlers learn to plop on their bums to put on shoes, instill the same habit for food and drinks.
- Create any kind of ritual that feels appropriate before eating. This may be something as simple as five breaths, a song, a prayer, remembering three things you are grateful for, or one minute of silence. Take the time to recognize the sacredness of eating, and allow your body to relax into a state where digestion is possible. Every time we eat we are saying yes to life, yes to nourishment, yes to well-being.
- Bring awareness to your inner state, prior to eating, and while eating. Notice your inner energy as you begin eating. Ask yourself, what would be most nourishing for me to eat right now? Notice your own hunger levels. As you eat, notice when you begin to feel full. Notice what bodily sensations arise that indicate fullness. Share your sensations with your children and invite them to notice their sensations. For kids a rating system of 1-10 around hunger and fullness can be a useful tool. And remember that it takes 20 minutes for food to reach our stomach, so you may not feel full right away. For adults, its generally recommended to eat until two-thirds of the way full.
- Remain seated and relaxed while eating. Prior to sitting down, make sure you have the foods you need prepared and served. Tip for the adults: set an internal boundary that you will not get up during the meal to meet your kids’ demands. Depending on age of your kids and your own internal ease with boundaries, easier said than done. Be gentle on yourself as you work towards remaining seated throughout your meal.
- Breathe as you eat. Oxygen is an essential element to the digestive system. The more we eat, the more oxygen our body needs. Especially if you find yourself tensing up or holding your breath, consciously put the fork down between bites and take a deep belly breath through your nose. As you focus on your breathing, your children will naturally sync up with your breathing and relaxation level. Or, as appropriate, share with them the importance of getting oxygen while we are eating and gently invite them to take some breaths with you.
- Engage all of your senses while eating. Notice the colors and smell of the foods on your plate. If appropriate, notice the texture by touching the food, or eating with your fingers. As you chew, notice the flavors and texture in your mouth. Notice how that changes as you chew. Allow your body to soak in the pleasure of eating. Ask your kids questions about their sensory experience, and invite them to share their sensations.
- Bring awareness to your posture while eating. Sitting up straight allows our digestive organs to work more easily, and allows your breath to flow. Notice if you are tightening up any part of your body while eating. Consciously relax your muscles and allow your body to soften.
- Keep conversation during meals light-hearted and stress-free. Leave serious subjects for family meetings or one-on-one chats with your partner. Remember, just talking about stressful subjects naturally triggers our body’s internal stress response, which shuts down digestion. We want to keep our digestion turned on and maximized while eating.
- This next tip is the fast track to mindfulness. Whenever you can, depending on the age of your kids, practice eating a meal, or part of your meal, in silence, with the goal of enjoying the taste and flavor of the foods, and each other’s company.
- Take a moment to express gratitude for all the persons, animals and plants involved in providing your nourishment. This could be part of your ritual before eating, or as you finish your meal.
Remember, how we eat is just as important as what we eat. Creating habits of slow and mindful eating will set your children up for a lifetime of greater ease and relaxation around food. If you are interested in more inspiration in this area, check out the writing of Marc David, and his two books, the Slow Down Diet and Nourishing Wisdom.
#mindfuleating #mindfulness #gratitude
I am a Heart and Soul Eating Coach, yoga teacher, Somatic Experiencing practitioner in-training, and human rights lawyer. I can help you connect with the wisdom of your body to transform challenges around eating, digestion and body image. Such symptoms may include overeating, emotional eating, compulsive/binge eating, constant dieting or restrictions, excess weight, poor body image, digestive problems, fatigue, anxiety, or general life overwhelm. I have struggled with many of these issues myself, and I know the pain and suffering of abandoning ourselves. I also know there is another way, and it is my deep joy to guide clients back to their inner knowing. By using concrete tools, body-based practices, and wisdom teachings, I will help you address the root causes of your challenges, facilitate your body’s innate capacity for wholeness and joy, and create the sense of thriving that you desire. My approach embraces self-compassion, body love, and greater self-expression as tools for integration. I am certified as an eating psychology coach through the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. I have also been trained or practiced with experts in conscious parenting (Dr. Shefali) self-care (Suzi Lula) and the Conscious Leadership Group (Annmarie Chereso). I am currently completing the Somatic Experiencing training program, which is a body-based trauma healing modality.