A New Superpower: Fullness

By Megrette Fletcher

What would happen if your child had a superpower? Okay, maybe this superpower won’t mean he’ll jump buildings in a single bound, but if your child always knew when to stop eating, would you count that as a superpower? Let’s imagine your child looks at you with a bright face and a confident voice that says, “Excuse me, mom, I have had enough. May I be excused?” 

Would that be a benefit at meal times?

Hunger and Fullness ScaleIf you to believe that stopping eating when you are comfortably full will help your health, and the health of your family then tuning into fullness is a terrific place to start. I have some even better news! Every child is born with this superpower. It is just waiting for you, the teacher, to awaken his/her ability into the spotlight.

Coaxing this ability to sense fullness is possible by having checking in with fullness, part of  your meal time. If you are a baseball fan, think of checking in with fullness as a mealtime equivalent to a 7th inning stretch.  This is a pause that becomes part of your families mealtime culture.

Getting more specific, look at the rating scale pictured.  It is divided into three sections. Numbers 10-7 is when either hunger or fullness is painful and unpleasant, 6-4 is when hunger or fullness is comfortable, and 3-1 is when hunger or fullness is slightly noticeable.

Between hunger and fullness is the number zero, and this is the most important number to notice when finding fullness. Zero is the point when you or your child are neither hungry nor full. It is also the moment in eating where you can help your child shift his/her intent from satisfying hunger to finding fullness.

Coach your child when eating to notice this place where he/she is no longer hungry but still has not become comfortably full.  The ability to recognize this moment will help him/she become more aware of the many choices that are available when eating. For a younger child, your coaching might sound like, “Lets pause and check in with your fullness. Do you want to keep eating, or is your tummy comfortable?” Creating this open dialogue between you and your children, strengthens the bonds between parent and child, and teaches you both how to learn and trust each other.  For an older child, you can expand the conversation to other decisions might be made, including after meals snacking or having desserts.

March and Aprial blog images.004The ability to recognize the absence of hunger is enhanced by slowing down at mealtime, reducing eating distractions such as TV and other electronic devices, and intentionally noticing and rating your child’s current physical sensations like fullness. If your mealtimes are already relaxed and include checking in, shift your focus to observing this neutral point in the meal. When engaging your child in conversations during the meal, direct part of your mealtime talk to include hunger, fullness and how these are changing to help your child remember that it is normal for him/her to observe fullness. 

Once your child has satisfied the acute hunger, the flavor of food changes. Sure the food may still taste good; however, the amount of enjoyment your child receive from each bite is less and less until finally eating is no longer pleasurable. Children (and adults) often pick at the remaining food on the plate.  Recognizing that the pleasure of eating will decrease with each bite, provides, even more reason not to force a child children to eat when not hungry. This tendency to push food not only will overfill the child, but it can make a pleasant meal, unpleasant.  Remember, eating past a comfortable level of fullness and eating food that is no longer enjoyable becomes painful, both physically and emotionally.

March and Aprial blog images.005The ability to find a comfortable level of fullness is a skill that you and your child were born with. If this superpower was forgotten to you, don’t worry, you can reclaim it as you begin to coach your child on becoming aware of fullness. In doing so, a new sense of energy and health is created by not overeating.

I hoped this post was helpful.  You don’t ever have to miss an issue of Mindful Eating for Kids! Just sign up here!

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Hunger Peas & The Fullness Pod

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

March and Aprial blog images.003In the last few posts, we’ve talked about hunger, recognizing that it is an experience that includes a group of signs that are unique to each person. These typically include pangs,  growling, grumbling, emptiness, gnawing, queasy feeling, tired, low energy, weak, irritability, mild headache, difficulty concentrating and thinking or making decisions.

When hunger first begins, it is often a gentle, pleasant feeling.  We will refer to this as a “comfortable” hunger. This level of hunger is pleasant, and if you acted on this signal, food would taste better than if you ate when you were not hungry.  Michelle May, MD likes to say, “Hunger is the best seasoning!” and it is a great way to think about WHY you want to be comfortably hungry when you eat. 

Hunger Peas In Fullness Pod

How many hunger peas do you have?

 Looking at the image of the hunger peas, you will see on both ends of the pod, the words Ouchie. The nine peas inside the pod, have faces that also represent both an uncomfortable level of hunger and fullness.  The peas, which are in the middle, numbered 4, 5, 6 represent a comfortable hunger and fullness.

When working with younger children, this hunger and fullness scale can help you communicate the dynamic state called “comfortable” hunger and fullness. Think of each bite (or every few bites) as a hunger pea, jumping into the fullness pod.  If your child started with a comfortable level of hunger, the amount of food it will take to get to the comfort pea of fullness will be less, than if he started at an uncomfortable level of hunger.  Coaching your child to “check in” and evaluate his/her level of hunger before eating is an ideal way for your child to determine and later participate in selecting portions.  Since hunger is always changing, consider pausing while eating to assist your child in evaluating fullness.

Play: If your child struggles to be still at a meal, how about adding some fun at meal times. Here is an activity called Drum Roll, and just like it sounds, you are going to give attention (or a drum roll) for each person at the table to report their hunger or fullness level.  Here is how you do the activity:  The parent stops midway during a meal, and explains, we would like to learn about [insert name of child] hunger level while drumming on the table. Allow the child to check in, and report a feeling hunger or fullness! You can cheer and move around the table, giving a drumroll for each person.  Use this activity to spark interest and curiosity in the rating your child’s hunger/fullness remembers there isn’t a right or wrong level of hunger. Model and discuss your decision to stop or keep eating and always, let this curiosity spill over into other areas of the meal, like the taste of food, the preparation of the meal and more.

If this was helpful, you can by signing up for Mindful Eating for Kids blog to get a head start on our next topic, Choosing food for more energy!  

Physical Hunger

By Megrette Fletcher

Hunger and FullnessWhat is physical hunger? How is physical hunger different than other types of hunger? First, physical hunger builds slowly. Physical hunger doesn’t that just “pops” into your head.  Physically hunger typically happens a few hours after eating.  It will have more than one symptom, and it is physically felt in the lower part of the body, typically in the small V-shaped space between your ribs and belly button.

Quick Summary: Physical hunger is a slow building sensation that has multiple cues and is felt in the body typically in the abdominal area.

Lots of parents tell me they don’t notice if they are hungry, or full which is why learning about hunger and fullness feels strange, foreign and maybe unnecessary. What I can share is the growing amount of research that has confirmed restrictive eating AKA: Dieting doesn’t work. Therefore,  parents need a different approach to eating then going on a diet.  This is why I am so committed to mindful eating! Children are learning all the time, so why not teach them (and maybe yourself) about what hunger feels like. What is a comfortable level of hunger, and a healthy satisfying level of fullness?

As you start your journey in mindful eating, begin by “checking in”.  This “checking in” to how you observe experience with hunger, and your ability to notice the sensation of blood sugar shift, rumbling, and grumblings stomachs.  As you check in, mindful eating asks you to hold the understanding that there isn’t a single experience you are trying to have, a feeling that is “Right” or a sign of hunger that is “Good.” In mindful eating, there is a shift in thinking from “Good and Bad,” to a more curious stance.  Questions such as, “What is my experience?” “Is this experience pleasant, neutral, unpleasant?” “What would help me ease this level of hunger?” Are great ways to learn more about your food and eating choices. Curiosity with hunger and fullness can start table time conversation, improve food choices and strengthen bonds at the table. Also, by shifting to a curious, nonjudgmental stance you are helping your child learn from both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences with food and eating. This is  great way of “holding” for your child the idea that there are no “Bad” opportunities to learn, just some we enjoy more!

Remembering that physical hunger is an experience that is a group of signals.  I think of hunger as a detective game, where there are three or four clues, and my job is to determine if it was physical hunger or something else?  For example, to make sure you child is physically hungry, instead of being influenced by his/her mood, emotions or proximity to food, I think back to those fourteen signs  and then identify what is present. I try to remember, “When was the last time he/she ate? What did he/she have? Could this be hunger?” My conversation might sound like this, “Describe your tummy. Are you feeling tired? Do you have a headache? Is there a touch of irritability in my child when he/she is typically happy? Could this be hunger? Or is this just a difficult situation?”

Checking in is important because, and I would like to be very clear on this point, Eating only fixes the problem caused by hunger.  Eating when your child is not physically hungry, does not produce feelings of energy, a sense of calm, or a sense of health. It doesn’t make a difficult situation easy, it doesn’t make the fatigue from a bad night sleep, go away. Eating when you or your child are not physically hungry is using food as a way to cope. Most people report using food to cope offers a temporary solution, and once the food is gone – you or your child is needing either a new way to cope or more food. This creates a cycle of eating that promotes physical fatigue, and a whole host of emotions that can range from a sense of guilt, frustration, and anger.

When the body does not physically need more energy, and you overfill your body with the energy from food, (which is saying eating when you are not physically hungry) is making your body deal with something it doesn’t need. Think of it like this, eating when you are not hungry, is the same as trying to put 20 gallons of gas in your car when you have a 15-gallon tank.  That would be silly! So what do you do? Make eating when you are physically hungry the intention.  The intention to eat when your child is physically hungry becomes the family learning, “Is my child  physically hungry?” Helping your child understand the experience of hunger is an educational process, like learning to count or read.  It takes time.  A child doesn’t just “start” reading, or “counting” because these are skills that are learned slowly. 

Hunger and Fullness ScaleReview the two different types of hunger/fullness scales.  The first is Hunger Peas, and it has a small child in mind. The second is a hunger/fullness scale which is for an older child or adult.

Explore

These hunger rating scales and the activities that will follow can help you begin the process. You may even find it will change your behaviors. So, stay tuned for my next post when I review the many ways these two tools work.  It is helpful to remember that Mindful Eating is more than a way to feed your family, it creates a whole new relationship with food, explore with me! Sign up for Mindful Eating for Kids!

Eating and Energy

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDEMarch and Aprial blog images.001

Mindful eating emphasizes tuning into the sensory experience, including hunger and fullness before, during and after eating. This is because the experience of hunger is how your body signals you for energy. For parents, helping their child learn what hunger feels like can be a confusing and often challenging time.  The confusion begins because is many people think hunger is a single feeling.  However, the experience of hunger a group of signals that the body produces to tell you over and over again that energy is needed.  Often the cues are like an alarm clock that doesn’t initially wake you from your sleep.  The body creates louder and louder signals trying to get you to notice that your energy stores are getting low.  These multiple cues to eat are complex and unique to each person. They vary from meal to meal, day to day and often for children can present in a range of symptoms from subtle to intense depending on a the child’s activity, mood, emotion, and proximity to food.

March & April Hunger & fullness .006The physical sensations that cause hunger include the actual contraction of stomach muscles, called peristalsis which creates a sense of rumbling and often produces stomach sounds.  Accompanying this is a decrease in blood sugar. This drop in blood sugar isn’t a danger to a healthy person or child. However, it can feel unpleasant.  The drop in blood sugar can trigger a decreased sense of energy. In Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, the book I co-authored with Michelle May, MD, we identify fourteen symptoms associated with hunger. These include pangs, growling, grumbling, emptiness, gnawing, queasy feeling, tired, low energy, weak, irritability, mild headache, difficulty concentrating and thinking or making decisions. The symptom of irritability may be identified as either aggression or tears. If your child becomes angry and upset for seemingly no reason, you might want to pause, and investigate how long it has been since the child has eaten.

Discover:

Noticing physical hunger is the initial step required to begin your families mindful eating journey. This is because there are many other cues to eat, other than hunger. If you or your child is “food aware”, you may find both of you are heavily influenced by an activity, mood, emotion, and proximity to food. Learning to identify the difference between physical hunger and these other cues to eat, is part of mindful eating. Of course, there is more to learn so keep Discovering the benefits of mindful eating with your kids! Never missing an issue of Mindful Eating for Kids  when you sign up to get the newsletter!

The “Choice” Challenge

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

For the last month, we have been talking about choice. Now it is time to create a change challenge about choice. In all challenges, you can choose to do this once (recommended) or for a span of time, say, a week (suggested after you have tried the challenge for a day). After you have done a change once and then expanded for a set period (say, a week), you can continue to expand your span (two weeks or a month) and evaluate the results.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.011

Like all changes, often the most difficult is creating a way to remember to do the new behavior. An effective way to remember is to pair the new behavior with an anchor behavior, which is described as a well-established action that you don’t need to be reminded of. For myself, my morning cup of coffee is a great anchor that I never forget! I have associated taking my morning medication, changing over the laundry and feeding the dog and cats as activities I do before or immediately after pouring my first cup of java!

Challenge yourself in a fun way!

Challenging yourself in a fun way may require some creative thinking. Here are suggestions from Dr. BJ Fogg for the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

Make sure to celebrate your success immediately after you do something. He calls these “celebrations,” and he has 10 attaboys that range from saying “I’m awesome” to a little dance. 

Associate the desired change with an anchor behavior described above.

Try to do the change after you have done something. For example: After I pour my coffee, I will take my pills. Or, After I brush my teeth, I will …, After I sit down to eat a meal, I will…, After I go the bathroom, I will… or After I take off my coat, I will…

Make the challenge really, really, really small. When something takes a lot of effort, it requires an equal amount of motivation. So, if your choice challenge is hard, you will need to import the motivation to keep with it. He suggests creating small changes that require very little motivation to complete. To learn more about BJ Fogg, watch this excellent TED video! Forget Big Change.

Challenging my choices!

Create a challenge that helps you become more aware of choice. These could be about selection, amount, choices about eating, stopping, or if you are attracted to food or not. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

When you select any food, use the kinetic activity with your hands (see post) to get a sense of your gut response to food. Here’s how this challenge might look:

After I have portioned my meal or snack, I will pause and position my hands in either palm up, receiving position or in a stop mode. I will notice if I have one hand receiving and the other hand as the stop. This challenge will help me recognize any deeper gut feelings, including foods I overeat and foods I might be resistant to eat.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.010Challenge yourself to notice the two parts of every food choice: What and how much. Here’s how this challenge might look:

Before making a selection of what to eat, I will challenge myself to choose a food that does not harm my body (and may benefit it). If I am unable to choose a food that will not harm me, I will focus on the amount eaten.

After making a selection of what to eat, I will challenge myself to choose an amount that does not harm my body (and may benefit it).

Challenge your level of curiosity. Here’s how this challenge might look:

After taking a few bites of food, start to ask questions. (You can choose one below or make up your own.)

  • “Am I still hungry or am I feeling full?
  • “Am I enjoying myself?”
  • “How much pleasure is this bite giving me?”
  • “Does this still taste good to me?”

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Choice Begins with WHY?

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

Having a choice is at the heart of mindful eating, and the ability to choose creates autonomy, independence and confidence around food and eating. How can such a seemingly small thing have such a big outcome? Choice is asking you to check in and learn, “Why am I eating this food?” You are no longer passively receiving food but actively choosing it! The benefits of having a choice don’t stop there. Asking questions stimulate learning, allowing you to adapt, change and modify a situation based on your needs.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.009

Try it yourself!

The next time you decide to eat, ask yourself, “Why?” Why am I choosing this food instead of that food? You may begin to see patterns or start to uncover something deeper about your motives, which is great. However, if this idea of asking “Why?” has left you feeling empty with a sense of having absolutely no clue, don’t despair. Most decisions regarding food and eating can be divided into two groups: internal and external cues, triggers or reasons.   

Internal cues are information that only you know. This would include influences like hunger, fullness, likes, dislikes, preferences, attitudes and memories or associations. External cues are information that is known by everyone or obtained from outside tests and measures. Typically, if you need a machine or a tool, it is considered external information. Examples of external influences include clocks, food labels, blood sugar or cholesterol levels, temperature, or portion size. All of these examples need some sort of tool or device to obtain the data. External information can also include other people, environment, and atmosphere.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.008

Resist thinking that one of these groups is “good” and the other “bad.” That binary view is not accurate and often triggers feelings of guilt, fear and shame. Instead, try to realize that food and eating choices are a blend and balance of both internal and external reasons. The key is understanding why you are choosing to eat. The moment you ask, “Why?” you are taking steps to counter mindless eating. It is amazing to realize what a person will eat, even if it tastes bad. In the book Mindless Eating, author Brian Wansink shares an example of how an external trigger, people eating popcorn, can cause someone to eat stale popcorn. Really? He did an experiment and found that if you are offered free stale popcorn and you hear other people eating popcorn, you will start eating it, even if it is gross and unappealing! 

The key is to check in with those internal cues to decide if eating stale popcorn is enjoyable. Being able to stop eating something that tastes bad, like stale popcorn, may not seem like a huge skill, but it really is. Mindful eating works by asking you to “check in.” Sure, you might be triggered to taste the popcorn, but you don’t have to keep eating it if it isn’t enjoyable. This is because you have the choice, and at any point you can ask, “Why am I eating bad-tasting, stale popcorn?” What is driving this choice? Kindhearted curiosity will help you explore and understand the reason for choosing food. Continue asking these friendly, gentle questions to help yourself see the choice in every situation. 

Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Why am I making this choice?”
  • “Am I hungry?”
  • “What does my body need?”
  • “What would help me physically?”
  • “What would taste good to me?”
  • “What are my options?”
  • “Am I still hungry or am I feeling full?
  • “Am I enjoying myself?”
  • “How much pleasure is this bite giving me?”
  • “Does this still taste good to me?”

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Food Choice 101: Selection & Choice

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

When it comes to food, the idea that you have a choice is often misleading. Most people are surprised to realize they are not making one choice, but two! Every choice you make has two parts: what to eat, or the selection, and how much to eat, or the portion.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.010This two-part decision-making process is why the logic of “good” and “bad” foods doesn’t work. When a person chooses a “healthy” item and then eats a very large amount, is it still healthy? The health value of any food decreases when it is over consumed. This is because when something is overeaten, it will bring a diet out of balance. The same is true if a person chooses an “unhealthy” item but limits the amount. This smaller portion of unhealthy items doesn’t bring the diet out of balance. In fact, small amounts seem to move the forbidden, unhealthy food into the realm of acceptable. Think for a moment about adding a small amount of food, such as bacon or cheese. Will a sprinkle of bacon or cheese on a salad, casserole or entree ruin the nutrients in these foods? It’s unlikely because the meal and overall diet can handle this tiny amount of “unhealthy” food. The portion doesn’t cause the meal, day or overall diet to be out of balance.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.008Yes, but there are still foods that are unhealthy, right?

A lot of health messaging encourages people to limit their overall perspective of food to fit into the good/bad food box. If you pause and think about how many calories a moderately active woman would eat in a year (about 657,000 calories) you can quickly see that most diets have wiggle room in them. Even if you overeat 50 percent of your calorie needs (or 900 calories) that represents 0.0013 of your total calories in a year. It is helpful to remember that if you are trying to be “good,” there is room for fun, discovery and adventure in everyone’s meal choices. The key is seeing the bigger picture. For example, if you eat three meals a day, in a year you are eating 1,095 meals. If one of those meals is “bad,” this represents 1/1095 or 0.00091 of your total meals. Choosing to see the big picture shows how insignificant one food or one meal is to your overall health. 

Now you know that the problem isn’t the exception or the infrequent choice. The issue that most people face is the unconscious habit of choosing less-nourishing foods (selection) or overeating (portion) any food, meal after meal, day after day, year after year. Over time, consistently eating low-nutrient foods, overeating any food, or a combination of the two will decrease health.

How mindful eating can help

Becoming more aware, or mindful, can help you uncover the opportunity in your food and eating selections. It is true that this tiny shift in thinking will not overhaul your diet or radically transform your food choice, but it might just be the change you were seeking.  Opening your eyes to opportunity requires you to give yourself time with your food and eating. Moving away from the frantic, rushing, quick, quick, quick mindset is often the most effective change a person can make.

If you are not sure this is the issue, take a minute and add up how much time you spend at each meal choosing, preparing and cooking food? Is it enough to consider the broader view of food and eating? Is it enough to ask and learn if you are selecting nutrient-dense foods at this meal or snack? If you are not choosing nutrient-dense foods, consider asking more questions, like “Why?” Was there a healthier choice available? Did I just not see it because I was so focused on another deadline, problem or issue?  Was there not enough time to prepare or eat a more nutritious item?

More time surrounding your food and eating choices offers an opportunity to pause, evaluate, consider, taste and even savor your selection. If having more time is not possible, consider how you can make it easier to select either a food or portion that will keep your diet in balance. Planning your next step takes time, and so does creating a plan for your meals, to bring lunch or order food from a place that offer more options than a burger and fries.

Many people share another consequence of the rush, rush, rush pace of life; they lack  creative energy and inspiration. The Internet, specifically Pinterest, can help. There are tons of cooking ideas, simple meals and tasty snacks that seem to float around social media. Why not get serious and find a board, a blog or a writer that you enjoy? Acknowledging that your busy life has decreased the time available for meal preparation isn’t a bad thing. If this is true for you, shift your focus to accepting that you have less time and that you would do better to have a plan, a strategy, a way to navigate the two-part process of choice: selection and portion.

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The Gas and Brake in Your Brain

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

Many of our choices are not based in knowledge but on more subtle information.  Your “gut” response to a situation can be categorized as either wanting to go toward a choice or move away from a choice. For example, if I offered you some kale chips, would you move toward them? If the thought of kale chips makes you say, “Yum,” and you feel your salivary glands activate, you are likely to move toward that choice. However, if these dark green crisps aren’t familiar or on your list of delicious foods, you might say, no thank you and moving away from this choice. The desire to move toward or away from a choice is so automatic, it may be completely invisible.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.001Neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, MD, offers the analogy of a car to understand how a person unconsciously enters into a choice situation. If a person is moving toward something, it is like giving the car some gas. If you’re pressing the gas pedal, you are moving toward a choice. If you don’t wish to move toward something, you use the brake. The gas and brake analogy is helpful to begin to see this invisible force behind the choice.  Modifying this analogy for a child can be done by using a simple kinesthetic learning technique with your hands.

Try it yourself

Look at a choice, such as eating kale chips. Now place your hands in the stop position. Ask yourself if the stop gesture is how you feel about eating the kale chips. Now try turning your hands over, palms up, in the receiving position. Ask yourself if this accepting position is how you feel about the kale chips. Now turn one hand to the stop position and the other hand to the accept position, and ask yourself if this mix of emotions is how I feel about kale chips?

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.002How a person responds to a situation is often a mix of emotions. It isn’t as simple as go or stop, gas or brake. Emotions are mixed, and often parents and children will find they have the brake and gas on at the same time. This creates the feeling of being stuck.

How mindful eating can help

Mindful eating can help by creating a pause. This pause allows people to gain insight to their direct experience, include this subtle gut feeling to a situation. For example, how does my child respond when presented with a new food? Does he move toward it –  hand out – receiving the opportunity? Or does he put on the brake, his hand in a full stop position? Gaining insight to your child’s habitual reaction to a situation can help you and your child untangle thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about choice. For a child, using the hand position to understand this concept of a gut reaction is helpful because it helps a child see her intention to be open, hands and mind in a receiving position; closed, hands and mind in a stop position; or confused with each hand offering a different position.

Understanding and exploring a child’s gut reaction to a situation is part of discovering and exploring the concept of choice. The real choice that you are offering your child goes beyond the acceptance or rejection of a food. It now includes the third choices the ability to be with  the feeling of being unsure, feeling stuck, or being confused by a food choice.

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Choice: The theme of Mindful Eating for Kids in January.

choice.001In the month of January, let us turn our attention to the topic of Choice about food. Taking a closer look at choice requires you to ask yourself honestly: What is the appeal of mindful eating over the typical food list that suggests “Eat this, not that!” or the glossy attraction of a January tabloid diet? Having a choice means you have to evaluate the risks and benefits and decide what feels right to you. Choice is about reflection, which is at the heart of mindful eating. To untangle the topic of choice, we will begin by engaging in our four-part process of Discovering, Exploring, Playing and Challenging ourselves along the way! 

There are great resources available for you to use as well. It just so happens that The Center for Mindful Eating will be celebrating Mindful Eating Day on January 28, 2016. If you are looking for support to start or to revive your mindful eating practice, registering for Mindful Eating Day will give you access to wonderful resources from the world’s leading mindful eating experts! To learn more, visit www.TheCenterForMindfulEating.org.

Giving the Gift of “No. Thank you.”

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

Teaching a child the value of giving is a noble cause that has gotten a lot of interest. There are loads of great resources on the Internet about how giving builds connections, relationships and feels great! So, you are hooked. I want to teach my kid about giving. How? Learning how to give things, your attention, time and honest feedback is a lifelong skill.

Before you have a conversation with your child, reach inside and ask, “Am I caring for myself while preparing for the holiday?” If you are, congratulations! If you are not, remember this lack of self-care is also something your child is learning.

Dec 2015 giving graphical quotes.003Most parents explain that they are busy, that they don’t have time, that they have so many extra activities during the season their needs are often forgotten. If you are shaking your head and thinking, “I can relate,” here is a gift that will help you and your family in so many ways. It is the gift of saying “No. Thank you.”

Before you ask, “Why would you teach a child to say ‘No. Thank you’?” Ask yourself: Is it a skill I have? Is it a skill I am using? Mindful eating talks a lot about savoring the bite, the taste. It talks about permission to eat, but it is often forgotten in the conversation that everyone needs permission to say “No. Thank you.” To food, and to other things, activities and situations.

When you have so much to say yes to, saying no is forgotten. But this doesn’t change the fact that you can’t eat everything and you don’t have to eat food simply because it is offered. You even don’t have to try food simply because it is there. You don’t have to experience every taste at a party. Mindful eating is about choice, and hopefully half (if not more) of your choices include comfort and ease in saying “No. Thank you.”

The grammar nerds that are reading have noticed the punctuation choice of a period after “No.” This means that there is more than a quick pause. “No,” as written, is a firm declination of the offer. The “Thank you” is a separate thought, offered to acknowledge the kindness behind the offer. 

Try it for yourself. Say “No.” Let your voice drop at the end. Pause for one or two seconds before offering the “Thank you.”

Now lets up the ante and look at a few examples of how to send a clear intention to decline food.

You are in the break room, and someone brought in donuts. The box has been left open, so they are hard and stale. Go ahead, say “No. Thank you.” That was easy because you are not hungry, and the food choice wasn’t very tasty. You can use this skill with your child as well. If the food offered is unappealing, go ahead and practice saying “No. Thank you.” Celebrate the ability to say no, so it feels like a reward instead of deprivation. Start on the easy foods and slowly work up to more challenging situations like the ones below.

You are picking up friends at their house after work. You are not hungry, but the moment you step into the kitchen you notice the plate of brownies and temptation sets in. You want the brownies (which is normal), but you also know there will be more food at the party, and you are not physically hungry. Can you say “No. Thank you”? If you can’t, add the step of empathy. Try this: “Your brownies look wonderful! I am going to resist them because I am not hungry, and there will be loads of food at the party.” You can use this skill of adding empathy about food temptation with your child as well. “Oh, you are right. They look good!” You can ask, “Are you able to resist?” Coach the child because he/she may not realize that more choices will be available. You can also set an expectation that he/she will eat at the party. You can even see if you can save the brownie for the party.

Dec 2015 giving graphical quotes empathy.001Now for the hardest situation. You notice that you are hungry, tired and a little bit frazzled by the day. You find yourself in a food oasis, surrounded by all your favorite chips and desserts, and you can smell peppermint hot chocolate. Your head begins to swirl in a delusional food fantasy. What to do? Here is when using your ability to say no softens. You are going to make a food choice because of the delight it will bring. The key is choice because you know you can’t eat it all. It is hard to make a choice in these situations, so again, begin with self-empathy. “Man, I am so tired and frazzled by the day, it is hard to make a choice.” Now focus on what you would enjoy most. Ask, “What would make me feel the best right now?” Connect with your largest need and then make a plan to meet that need. You can use this skill with your child as well. Empathy first, then begin to advocate self-care when dealing with a very tempting situation. “John, look at this amount of crazy food! Let me help you make a choice.” Scan the situation with your child. Explain, “Let’s look at everything. Come with me and we will walk around and see what is available.” If he sees more than one food that he has to have, comfort him because mindful eating is about choosing between two wonderful things. It isn’t about restriction or deprivation, such as suggesting to a child to choose applesauce instead of apple pie.  The intention is to enjoy food, and that includes enjoying a dessert.

Sign up to learn about mindful eating, explore ideas, and tips that make Mindful Eating Easy from Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed, RD, CDE a leading expert and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating