Instead of dieting, eating slowly and thoughtfully while enjoying healthy food can help parents and youngsters get weight under control.
Almost 37 percent of adults and about 17 percent of children and teens in the U.S. are heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
So finding new ways to break the over-eating lifestyle of too many adults and kids is obviously an important goal. It turns out paying more conscious attention to what, how, and when we eat — an approach known as “mindful eating” — could be the key.
We’ve all heard how certain diets, including low-carb, low-fat, and calorie-restricted plans, will guarantee we’ll soon be slimmer and trimmer. But for the most part, fad diets don’t work – at least, not long term. The majority of people quickly tire of food restrictions and end up regaining any weight they’ve lost on most diets, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Many nutrition experts and doctors who treat obesity now advise turning attention away from restricting food and concentrating, instead, on building a healthy relationship with food. In fact, a recent survey of 1,700 registered dieticians reported this approach to eating, instead of dieting, is a growing trend in the nutrition field.
In her book “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food,” pediatrician Jan Chozen Bays, MD, describes this strategy as “the opposite of diets.” The goal, she writes, is to be conscious of what we are eating and why, based physical cues, such as hunger, not emotional reasons, like equating gobbling down cake or candy with feeling happy.
Lenna Liu, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and Child Wellness Clinic, encourages families to adopt this mindful approach to food as a way to help children, and their parents, with the complex issue of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Instead of focusing on counting calories and obsessing about watching the scales, mindful eating involves paying attention to eating more slowly, enjoying food, and being aware of when you don’t need to eat more.
“Mindful eating is a more compassionate and holistic way to approach healthy eating,” said Liu. “It not only focuses on what foods we eat, but on how our bodies feel. It allows us to pay attention to hunger and fullness, emotional connections to food, and the relationships involved in eating.”
Liu advises parents to think about the emotional connections they and their offspring have when eating. For example, do you turn to a certain food for comfort when you feel stressed or anxious, whether you are hungry or not? True physical hunger occurs over time, but when the urge to eat is triggered by emotions, it feels sudden and urgent.
Learn to tune into your body so you’ll recognize the difference between real hunger and the desire to eat something to make you feel momentarily better, Liu explained. Then you can help your children make the same distinction and spot when they are eating out of habit, not because they need the food — for example, automatically munching on snacks during commercials while watching TV.
Explain to your youngsters that healthy food is the fuel they need for play and for doing well in school. When your family thinks about food this way, it encourages making healthier decisions like filling at least half of the plate with fruits and vegetables and choosing water over sugary drinks, according to Liu.
She also advises avoiding words such as fat, thin, and diet and urges talking to your children about feeling good and being able to do things that are fun. Shopping with parents for healthy foods and helping prepare meals can also encourage an interest in mindful eating.
Simply eating together as a family and sharing positive talk at the dinner table can also help families reach and maintain weight goals. Liu points out everyone is more likely to slow down during family meals, pay attention to what they’re eating, and notice when they are full.
April 09, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN