WHAT IS MINDFUL EATING?
Mindful eating, also referred to as intuitive eating, is based on Buddhist teachings which focus on the experience of eating, AND ENJOYING, our food. The concept was presented in a feature column in The New York Times written by Jeff Gordinier, based on his time spent in a Buddhist monastery. He discovered that mindful eating practitioners eat in silence and chewed small pieces of food very slowly and deliberately to experience its taste, texture and smell.
One study of 1,400 mindful eaters found that they enjoyed lower body weights, greater sense of well-being and suffered from fewer eating disorders. However, many feel the concept, while valuable, is very difficult to put in practice in the busy American family. Fortunately, research shows that the simple act of the family meal can have a powerful impact on mindfulness, health and wellness, even if it isn’t a picture-perfect meal.
In a country that thrives on a fast pace with over-booked schedules, families struggle to balance work and school and after school sports and activities. Consequently, fast food, eat-and-go habits have become the norm. According to some studies, most find it difficult to sit and relax for a family meal even once a week. And often, when families do pull off a family meal, it is often overwrought with school drama, sibling rivalry, and parental discipline about school, homework or social activities, making the situation stressful. Even so, despite the family conflict, studies strongly support the health values of the family meal.
A recent study from Columbia University that received national attention found that children who participated in a family meal regularly were less likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol and more likely to excel in school. Moreover, those children eating with their families at least 5 times per week benefited most. Other studies have found that there is a significantly lower incidence of teens who smoke, use alcohol, have sex at a young age, fight, get suspended from school or commit suicide among those who have meals with their family on a regular basis
… FOR A MORE MINDFULL AND HEALTHY FAMILY MEALTIME (WEBMD)
Now that you have learned the importance of mindful eating and family meals, you are probably wondering how one would incorporate the concept into the daily life of a busy family: working, going to school, playing sports, attending dance class and participating in multiple after school and travel activities. While not perfect, WebMD offers some tips to help create mealtime bliss in an attempt to make dining as a family a positive and healthy experience.
Lower the noise level in environment at mealtime. No TV, cell phones, computers or radios blasting in the background. Soft, soothing background music can be very helpful to set a stress free mood. To involve the entire family, let each member take a turn to choose mutually acceptable music for that meal.
2. SET THE TABLE TO SET THE MOOD
A formal table setting is not necessary to create a special mood. However, tablecloths and napkins with bright colors or holiday imprints can spice up the room. Fresh flowers from the garden or grocery store are always a good idea!
3. LET THERE BE LIGHT…SOFT LIGHT
Dim the light and add some candles to the dinner table to create a relaxing atmosphere at mealtime. Make “the lighting of the candle” a special event in which children participate.
4. CONTROL THE CONVERSATION
Parents and children must avoid using mealtime as an opportunity to ambush a captivated audience. Discussions about family complaints and grievances should be deferred for after dinner meetings or other appropriate times. Avoid confrontation, to-do lists, medical problems and focus instead on planning a weekend activity or future vacation. Attempt to pull children and teenagers into the conversation with positive experiences that week or open-ended questions like, “if you could visit any place in the world…”
5. KEEP YOUR COOL IN THE KITCHEN
While trying to make the kitchen a happy place, try to remember that the cook may be under stress to get a meal on the table within the time demands of work and after school activities. The experts suggest trying to do as much as possible ahead of time, use the weekend to make meals for the rest of the week, and assign portions of the meal to other family members: children can clean the vegetables and make salads.
6. KEEP IT REAL
Be realistic…family meals will not happen every night and some family meals will end in conflict. But, if you don’t attempt to organize a family meal, it will NEVER happen and if you don’t try to control the conflict it will ALWAYS happen. Don’t be too rigid. If breakfast is easier to organize as a family, consider the option once or twice a week. Get a calendar each week and make a family schedule that includes family meal times. Always remember, research clearly shows that the benefits of a family meal far outweigh the hassle and inconvenience of planning it!
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.