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“mindful” eating, what it is and isn’t, and why kids don’t need it

Posted by on Feb 19, 2013 in Blog Posts |

American_vs_french_eating_habitsA few random thoughts on mindful eating, which seems to be THE buzzword in eating and weight loss circles…

What Mindful Eating is…

Mindful eating is  paying attention

Mindful eating is being curious

Mindful eating is exploring

Mindful eating is permission

Mindful eating is rediscovering one of life’s great pleasures

Mindful eating exercises are a method used to help adults reconnect to tuned in eating, or eating based on internal cues of hunger, fullness AND appetite.

Mindful eating is part of eating competence

 What Mindful Eating is Not, or Shouldn’t Be

Mindful eating is not a diet, or a way to get you to lose weight (you might, you might not)

Mindful eating is not about learning to just address physical hunger and deny satisfaction. *

Mindful eating is not a way to abolish emotional” eating (it’s a way to recognize emotions, and eat with intention and attention)

Mindful eating is not a way to make you eat less (you might, you might not)

Mindful eating is not about restricting your appetite to only one piece of anything (one piece might satisfy you some days, some days you might want none, and some days you might feel like 3 or 4)

Mindful eating is not about the “right” way to enjoy the “right” foods  (i.e  these rules from a mindful eating handout…Chew your food 10-15 times per bite. Pay attention to taste and texture and how it changes. Swallow when the food is uniformly smooth. Set down your utensils between bites. Rest for a few seconds before gathering the next morsel. Take a sip of water, tea, or black coffee between bites. Put the proper portions of food on your plate and try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes.”)


 Mindful eating (in they way it is used for adults who have lost touch with internal regulation) is not for little kids.

A six year-old doesn’t need to sit and savor every bite of everything she eats. If children are supported with their eating, they will retain their skills of listening to their bodies for signs of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. I’m not saying it’s not fun or interesting for kids to engage in a mindful eating exercise here or there, but kids can tune in to cues from their bodies through other more developmentally appropriate ways. Developmentally, engaging cognitively in the eating and appetite process isn’t necessary if it remains one that is intuitive. If those skills have been lost, mindful eating can be helpful, but must be wielded with caution. Mindful eating that is about losing weight or eating less will feel like restriction and is likely to backfire.

What tuned-in eating looks like for kids:

  • Eat without distraction (most of the time. The occasional snack in front of the TV is fine.)
  • Eat with loving adults, in a pleasant setting (not nagging about portions, or veggies, or arguing.)
  • Have meals and snacks with a variety of tasty foods with low and high fat options, and choices in between.
  • The child is allowed to eat until he/she is full/satisfied. (Division of Responsibility)
  • Having enough time to eat (not in snowpants, right before recess where longer meals mean less recess, or eating in the car regularly on the way to karate).



I love this video series, that addresses mindful eating, by my friend and colleague Pam Estes, RD,  who runs groups teaching Satter’s “How to Eat” program based on her clinical experience and eating competence research for adults. I love how the words “explore, pay attention, figure out, hear what your body is signaling…” show up.

I also love how this video shows ALL foods. So many eating and nutrition sources pay lip service to “all foods fit” but then you never see or hear about fries or pizza. Notice how the video includes all the “forbidden” foods, and folks of all shapes and sizes.  Did you notice that? Did you notice there was candy?

I wonder if you have had an a-ha moment with a mindful eating exercise like I did (I actually like larger bites of food, it’s more pleasant for me, and I still self-regulate, it’s not about making yourself take small bites or eat less!)

* random brilliant comment from a reader about the difference…There are differences between being physically hungry, physically full and satisfied/”done.” There’s that noshy, full but not that full, need something else/something sweet feeling I get sometimes after a meal. I find that if I try to ignore it, I’ll end up going to get something else 1/2 hr or an hr after the meal anyway, so why not just eat it when I actually want it in the first place? I think being able to satisfy appetite in this way is what restrictive dieting rarely allows. You might be able to fulfill physical hunger minimally well, but that flexibility that stops obsessive food thought is gone. And then the failed dieter is called a failure for “emotional eating” in that case. Pleasure and nuance are important, like you said)

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