Teach Mindful Eating to Teens
There’s been a lot of talk about “mindfulness” in our culture lately, but many people don’t fully understand the term. Mindfulness is when we try to stay consciously aware of an experience while it’s happening. This can be a helpful practice in any number of situations, but it can be especially useful while eating.
Many Americans will eat junk food while scrolling through social media, working on the computer, or watching a TV show. This kind of distracted munching means that the person is not paying attention to how much they are eating, when they are full, nor how the food tastes. All of these unconscious decisions lead to weight gain and poor health.
Mindful eating encourages us to slow down and take our time as we eat, become aware of our body cues for hunger, and appreciate the smells, texture and taste of our food. By intentionally focusing on the food we are consuming, we can develop a healthier relationship with food, which is especially important for teenagers who often struggle with their changing bodies during puberty, as well as our culture’s messages about dieting and body image.
How to Support Mindful Eating In Teens
Parents can encourage mindful eating in a variety of ways. Examples include:
- Make a rule to always eat at the table with no distractions. Turn off the TV, put the phone down, log off the computer, and enjoy your food. This eliminates distracted eating.
- Encourage family meals. Research shows that sitting down together to eat has many benefits including improved family relationships, decreased risk of obesity, improved academic success, and less behavior problems.
- Set the pace for the meal by eating slowly yourself. Take time to chew food properly and put your cutlery down between each mouthful. Make it a rule that everyone sits at the table until the last person is done eating so that your teens don’t rush eating in order to see what’s on TV or check their phones.
- Encourage children to listen to their body’s cues. Never require teens to “clean their plate” – they should stop eating when they feel full.
- Teach teens appropriate life skills pertaining to food, such as grocery shopping and cooking meals. Not only does this provide teens with independence, it also gives them choice in what they eat and will support healthy habits that they can carry with them into adulthood.
- Discuss benefits of nutrition. Many people are completely unaware of how their diet impacts their overall well-being. Teens need to know that the foods they choose to eat can affect their health, appearance, mood, and energy level. A nutritious diet helps us think clearer, sleep better, have more energy, improve our immune system, have clearer skin, and improve our mental health. Most people are generally more motivated to make changes in their lifestyle if they perceive good benefits to them rather than fearing negative effects.
- Avoid dieting. Diets are generally very unhealthy. Instead talk to teens about choosing nutritious foods as a lifestyle. Make sure that teens understand that “mindful eating” is not a diet or fad. It’s a way of life that allows individuals to be more fully aware of their food and make conscious decisions about their eating.
So many teens resolve to try to eat better or lose weight, especially at the beginning of a new year. Rather than jumping onto the next diet fad, encourage your teen to explore what real healthy eating looks like. Mindful eating can be a path towards positive change that will improve their life.