Raising Mindful Eaters (While Healing Your Own Relationship with Food and Body)
By Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RDN, CDN
In ancient cultures and for thousands of years, indigenous peoples have had a traditional relationship with local foods that includes a connection to the territory, a feeling of being responsible for the ecosystems and a spiritual kinship.
Children are born with the innate capacity for mindful eating. They naturally recognize and respond to hunger and fullness and, with skillful guidance from parents, can maintain this satisfying relationship with food throughout their lives.
Unfortunately, many of us lose our connection with this natural ability as we grow up. The diet culture we live in tells us our bodies cannot be trusted to guide us to eat what, when, and how much we need. Intolerance for body diversity causes even the medical establishment to advise parents to control children’s and young adult’s food intake, ultimately altering their body trust as they mature into adults. Misunderstandings about the connection between eating, weight, and health distort our relationship with food, making it difficult to recognize and respond to what is arising in our present-moment body. Finally, disconnection from our emotions can make it difficult to discern whether the hunger we are feeling (and feeding) lies in our bellies, our hearts, or our minds.
Such confusion presents an opportunity for mindfulness practitioners to be with what is. By connecting with our bodies, observing our thoughts without judgment, and staying present with our actual experience, we can eat mindfully, modifying our eating according to our body’s’ needs, and experience joy and satisfaction in our food choices. The following framework can help you address your own confusion about food and eating while nurturing and maintaining the mindful eating capacity of your children: 1. Model Mindful Eating and Body Appreciation
No matter what we mean to communicate with our kids about food and our bodies, it’s what they hear us say and see us do that make lasting impressions. Refrain from speaking harshly about your body or anyone else’s body. Treat your body and all bodies with kindness and compassion. Feed yourself regularly and satisfyingly throughout the day. If you have work to do on your relationship with food and your body, now’s the time.2. Make a Variety of Satisfying Food Available
Our bodies need carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to feel nourished and satisfied. All foods contain various combinations of these nutrients. By making a variety of foods available in the home - various fruits and vegetables, grains and cereals, snacks and play foods, proteins, nuts, seeds, and other energy-dense foods - kids are more likely to choose a variety to meet their ever-changing needs.3. Leave Morality Out of Eating
Part of modeling mindful eating and body appreciation is not labeling foods as good or bad, not feeling “guilty” about “indulging” but in mindfully enjoying whatever we choose to eat. The carrot and the carrot cake have no inherent moral value; each is just a different combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and all foods can fit into a healthful and mindful way of eating. When we leave the morality out of eating, the focus can shift to what brings us pleasure and how we feel when we eat different foods. 4. Eat Mindfully Together When Possible
Family meals are invaluable but they don’t need to be perfect or even happen every day to benefit your family. Do what you can, knowing that the connection formed through the cooperative planning, preparing, serving, eating, and cleaning up of a meal creates a lasting foundation for mindful eating.5. Demystify Heart Hunger
Eating serves many purposes, including soothing a hungry heart. There is nothing wrong with comfort eating. Period. It can be empowering and illuminating to understand when and why we are eating to feed our bodies versus soothing painful emotions. Talking about emotions openly and non-judgmentally normalizes them and helps us all learn to tolerate the full range of our experience.
Originally published in Food for Thought Autumn 2019: Pregnancy and Families
In this issue:
• Pregnancy: A Time to Listen Even More Closely to Your Body, by Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi
- Educating Parents (and Thereby Children) about Mindful Eating, by Dr. Claudia Vega
- Raising Mindful Eaters (While Healing Your Own Relationship with Food and Body), by Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RD, CDN
- Setting Your Mindful Eating Intention, by Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RD, CDN
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