The SMArt Kids convened for our March SMA to learn about mindfulness and its importance in regard to eating healthy. We were fortunate to be joined by our Harvard Vanguard Burlington Behavioral Health colleague, Chip Wilder. Chip taught the group about mindfulness and even led the group in a mindfulness exercise. (See below for exercises you can try with your children at home.)
Parents and SMArt Kids alike, not to mention Linda Germaine-Miller, our SMArt Kids nutritionist, participated in the mindfulness activity. The focus of the activity: a simple yet, as we learned, powerful raisin! Before eating the raisin, everyone thought about its appearance, shape, size, color, smell and texture. (Salivating yet?) As they placed it in their mouths, they thought about the sensation, all of the raisin’s characteristics and the whole process of eating it.
The SMArt Kids had amazing insight when asked about their experience with mindfully eating a raisin. This activity brought up some key points that we would like our SMArt Kids to embrace and practice at home: Use your senses. Be aware. Ask yourself why you are eating.
Mindful eating is an experience that engages all of the five senses. Remember to:
Listen to your food!
By using all of your senses, you will appreciate all of the characteristics of the food. You are more likely to savor the bites, eat slower, digest better and enjoy the meal more.
Mindful eating means that one understands why he or she is eating. We reviewed the 3 different triggers for eating – hunger, appetite and emotion. Linda walked us through some scenarios to help the SMArt Kids grasp these concepts.
Give this one a try: You go to visit your Grandma one day after lunch. When you walk into her house, you see a dish of chocolate on a small table in the living room and suddenly you want to eat some chocolate. This is an example of:
C) Emotional eating
(The answer is B)
We encourage the SMArt Kids to focus on eating when hungry rather than to fill an emotional need. If you catch yourself about to eat when you aren’t hungry – grab a glass of water, brush your teeth, leave the kitchen or find something else to do!
Mindful eating requires you to be in the moment and to deliberately pay attention. Mindfulness is being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment. With practice, mindfulness cultivates the possibility of freeing yourself of reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. For those SMArt Kids who start to eat mindfully, it could mean that they may eat less often (when hungry rather than out of habit or from emotions), may eat less volume and hopefully desire healthier foods.
Here are some mindful practices you can try at home.
Mindful Eating Practice
Time: About Five- Seven Minutes (2 -3 times per week)
Prepare for Exercise – (two minutes) Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing: Use the following script to guide yourself and your child through this exercise to prepare for a mindful eating practice.
Mindful Eating Practice (3- 4 minutes)
Place the selected food on a plate in front of your child (remember the raisin example). Take your child through the script below, varying it as you feel appropriate.
“Look at the (food’s name). What is its shape? What size is it? What color is the (food)? What smell do you notice? What sensation do you notice in your mouth as you look at the (food)? What’s the feeling in your stomach? Pick up the food slowly. Hold the (food) in your fingers and look at it in your grasp. What does the (food) feel like in your hand: its texture, temperature?
Bring the (food) slowly to your lips. Before putting the food to your mouth, pause and be aware of what you are experiencing in your mouth. Slowly open and place the (food) on your tongue for a moment without biting into it. Feel what you mouth wants to do with this (food). Take a few moments before you bite into it. Feel its texture on your tongue and in your mouth. What do you taste?
Now bite into it noticing what you taste and what it feels like. As you continue to taste, try not to swallow the (food) right away. Does the taste and feeling change as you are chewing? Feel the food going down as you swallow. Refocus on your mouth. Notice your stomach and what it may be feeling. Notice what you are feeling? Now you have finished your exercise.”
Adapted from: Willard, Christopher, 2010, A Child’s Mind: Mindful Practice to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed, Parallax Press, CA
The SMArt kids learned some tangible tools when it comes to mindful eating. We hope they are able to keep practicing this new skill over the next month. We look forward to hearing their successes at the April SMA.
Lastly, don’t forget that March is National Nutrition Month! In honor of this, we would like to thank Linda Germaine-Miller for all of her contributions to the SMArt Kids SMA at Burlington. Keep in mind the message of the month that was previously posted on the Harvard Vanguard blog: There is no right or wrong, one size fits all diet. SMArt Kids should eat right your way every day and include the foods you love as part of an overall healthy eating plan.