By: Raina Smith, MS, Mental Health Counseling Intern, & Catherine Baker, PhD, BCBA-D
With several food-centered holidays coming up, we want to highlight emerging research on Mindful Eating. Mindful eating is a practice that can help anyone, whether you have anxiety, eating issues, or you just want to be more mindful this time of year. This can be practiced with your children for a whole family experience. In doing so, you get an instant parenting win: more enjoyable family time and modeling healthy behaviors for your kiddos!
So let’s start with discussing mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as being present in the moment without judgment. Those who practice mindfulness are aware of their actions, thoughts. emotions, bodily sensations, and are not overly distracted by what is happening around them. Mindfulness is a practice that is making its way into therapy through different techniques that are used to help treat various struggles and concerns.
Mindful eating is taking the principles of mindfulness to the dinner table! Recently, researchers have taken a deeper dive on the effects of mindful eating principles on binge eating, and it’s drawn a lot of attention from therapists and researchers alike.
Mindful eating is the technique to bring awareness to what a person is eating and how it makes them feel by connecting the mind and body. Mindful eating does not concern itself with the number of calories, carbohydrates, fats, and protein a person is taking in. Instead, the technique focuses on why a person is eating, their experience with the food, and awareness around physical and emotional sensations without passing judgment. Therefore, mindful eating requires a person’s full attention to differentiate between emotional and physical hunger. A person who practices mindful eating regularly will learn to notice the needs of their body and identify whether they’ve had enough food or not, as well as experience a greater appreciation for eating in general.
This is an important skill to learn, as people who are battling anxiety and depression may have an increase in appetite and seek out high-caloric food as a coping mechanism, which creates a negative relationship between food, mood, and body image. Inversely, people who struggle with binge eating can develop other forms of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, other mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, and other physical issues, such as increased body weight and feeling sick.
Research done by Sheila Pintado-Cucarella and Paulina Rodríguez-Salgado (2016) demonstrated mindful eating is negatively correlated with binge eating, obesity, and negative emotions. The research also showed that those with low levels of mindful eating had higher levels of uncontrolled eating, demonstrating an inverse relationship between the two. Also, people with high levels of anxiety and depression had lower levels of mindful eating.
So what does all of this research mean for your family? Mindful eating and body image issues are strongly correlated with each other. If mindful eating is low then there is also a high possibility a person may grapple with anxiety, depression, and body image issues, and vise versa. Bringing awareness to the present moment and not judging one’s self while eating can support a healthy relationship with food and the body.
Ready to practice mindful eating as a family? Try some of these tips:
- Have a “low distraction” meal together. Eat together without watching TV, playing on phones, etc. This allows you all to pay attention to the meal you’re enjoying!
- Set aside enough time for meals. If your child has to eat very quickly before rushing out the door, their body doesn’t have enough time to process fullness cues! Be sure to give enough time for meals, at least 30 minutes or more.
- Focus on how the food makes you feel! When eating together, discuss the flavors, textures, and sensations of eating! Share when you’re starting to feel full, and allow yourself and your children to stop eating when they are full. No need to make it to the “Clean Plate Club.”
Looking for support for your child? Contact us to schedule an assessment for your child.