Mindful Eating: Helping kids to feel energized about the food and mood relationship
The expression on this child’s face says it all. Absolute pure joy. What if I told you that there is a mindful eating activity that I have the pleasure of doing with children in therapy that elicits this same reaction? It often is a first step in their journey of beginning to learn about the important connection between food and mood. Mindful eating practices support the belief that is widely held by the therapists at THLH: there is a strong connection between the mind and body and that our physical health and mental health are related to each other. In our previous blogs, we talked about how mindfulness involves sustaining attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Mindful eating allows children to be engaged in the here and now and make observations about the food(s) they are eating using all five senses. While there are a number of ways that children can learn about mindful eating, this is an example of one activity that has been used in therapy at the practice and can be incorporated in other settings too.
Here are the steps:
First, have children choose three different snack items, using small portion sizes.
Start off by sharing that they will be using all five senses for this activity.
Walk through with them using each of their senses by asking questions such as the following: “Describe what you see.” “Does the (insert food item) feel rough or smooth?” “Do you hear anything when you put the (insert food item) next to your ear and shake it?” “What does the (insert food item) smell like?”
The last step is for them to taste the food item, and at this point, children are very excited to do so. Before they do, encourage them to chew and savor the taste, describing what this experience is like for them.
Repeat these questions for each of the snack items. If possible after practicing with the first snack, allow more independence by having children walk through all five senses on their own instead of the adult prompting them with the questions.
After completing this activity, various reflection questions can be tailored to fit the developmental level of the child. Some examples are as follows:
“What was your favorite snack item and why?”
“Which of your senses was easiest and/or hardest to use when describing the snack item?”
“How did your body feel when you ate this snack item?”
“How does eating this snack item impact your mood?”
“Was this mindful eating activity similar or different to how you currently eat snacks/meals at home?”
“Why would it be important to continue practicing mindful eating?”
“How could you incorporate mindful eating into your routine?” “What settings (i.e. school, home, community) would you like to work on engaging in mindful eating?”
One variation of this activity is that children can keep the snack items they have selected as a surprise from the adult with whom they are completing the activity. The adult will give the questions related to the senses and the child will give clues to the adult to help them guess the name of the food items.
After this activity is first introduced during a session, I encourage my clients to continue engaging in mindful eating. One way that children can practice this skill is to have them teach this activity to others at home. This can be completed by your child teaching a younger sibling, having special time with parents doing this together, or can even take place as a whole family at the dinner table. Psychoeducation with children about mindful eating can help them to build a healthy relationship with food. Of course, adults can experience a number of benefits from practicing mindful eating as well.
For more information on the topic of mindfulness, please check out our following blog posts: What is Mindfulness; The Power of Mindfulness: Transforming Your Daily Routine; Practicing Mindful Meditation.
If you are interested in exploring mindfulness practices in individual therapy or would like to learn more about nutrition coaching, please contact us at email@example.com or call 703-942-9745.