Have you ever watched a toddler eat? Sometimes it can be frustrating for adults to try to feed a child, especially picky eaters! I have seen children in my family take about two bites of their food, put it down, and go play. An hour later, after the mother has washed all the dishes and put away all the leftovers, the toddler bounces in and says he is hungry! Sometimes we get so frustrated as adults because it makes our job harder to feed these little tykes, but it seems like they are just on their own feeding schedule no matter what we try to do! Sometimes parents start demanding that the child finishes the food on their plate, even if the child is not hungry, or even if the child does not want to eat that food.
First of all, I want to express empathy to parents dealing with picky eaters! I know it can be so difficult to feed children who are picky, and keep up with all the other demands of life. I feel you, Mommas and Daddies!
However, I want to point out that children are born with a personal eating compass that is really sensitive! Children’s tastes are very immature, and they can be extremely sensitive to flavors, textures, and temperature in foods. Also, their little digestive systems are not as large and developed as an adult’s digestive system. This means that their little bodies send signals about their hunger, fullness, likes, and dislikes which children often seem to be intuitively aware. This is a natural relationship between the child and his body. When well-intentioned parents try to step in and ‘override’ the intuitive compass of the child, this can cause the child to lose that sense of connectedness and self-trust in their own bodies. This may lead to a sense of disconnectedness as the child grows into an adult, which may lead to issues with over-eating and other complicated issues that we see in the adult population.
My point is that we need to get back to our own inner-child eating system! Each of us has an internal signal system or compass that tells us when, how much, and what to eat! This is often referred to as intuitive eating. When we are able to practice mindfulness in order to reconnect to that natural inner- compass system of eating, then we will be able to keep our bodies nourished well without over-eating as much. We can observe our body’s signals and cravings from a more objective stance, and learn to decifer between true, physiological hunger, and emotional hunger.
One really great way to start practicing mindful eating is to rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 periodically throughout the day. Get to know your body’s inner signals by noticing what it’s like to feel over-stuffed, which might be between an 8 and 10, and extremely hungry, between a 1 and 3. When we allow our bodies to get down to the really hungry range (around a 3 or less), this is the danger zone which often prompts our body to send strong hunger signals which often leads to over-eating. When we swing from a very hungry state to an over-full state (greater than a 7 or 8), this is what causes weight gain. Your body may believe that it is starving, and as a result, will respond by ‘signaling’ a binge episode. Your body does this by causing you to feel very hungry, and you won’t feel satisfied until you have over-eaten and feel stuffed full!
The alternative to this is to eat smaller, more regular meals which keeps you in the ‘satisfaction’ zone between 3 and 7 at all times. Personally, I like to keep my tank right around a comfortable 6, in which I feel energized, satisfied, and I am not experiencing cravings or hunger pains. I am able to engage in physical activity at this level because I am not overly full. I also feel mentally aware, and well-hydrated at this level. When I feel my body starting to get around a 4.5, I feel a bit of a hunger pain, and I notice my mind starting to prompt me for food. I know this is happening, because my train of thought often drifts to imagining a type of food! Perhaps a sandwich, or some chicken salad starts to float around in my mind. At this point, I know that it’s time to start preparing my meal.
Also, planning meals while we are comfortably full is a secret tip to ensuring that we eat a more nourishing, balanced meal. The reason for this is because when we are feeling satisfied, we are more capable of using our rational, higher brain which is able to be creative and make good judgments on our food choices. However, when we are very hungry, we begin to enter what I call the “survival mode” of the lower brain. When we are famished, any food sounds fantastic! Making a healthy choice is much harder and we are often in an irritable, low-energy, and emotional state when we are already hungry. It helps a lot to already have a plan in place to make it easier for you to know exactly what to prepare when you are hungry and entering that “survival mode!”
How do you get in touch with your inner- eating compass? What mindful eating tips do you have to share? What do you struggle with the most?
Is there a topic that you would like to hear my thoughts on? Let me know!
Keep loving yourselves, friends. Keep moving towards your dreams.
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Hanna is a blogger, yogi, foodie, barista, and a student of life. She has a background in studying psychology and counseling. Right now, she is eagerly working towards becoming a certified health coach. She will take her examination for certification in APRIL 2017!