As the nation prepares for a new president in office many remain anxious and uncertain. Some are hopeful. Others feel despair. These feelings are characteristic of a period of profound transition; something with which mothers have a great deal of experience. So often I hear clients say “I was just getting the hang of it,” in reference to a child’s particular behavior or way of being, “and now I’m lost again.”
Early motherhood presents a rich opportunity to practice transition-management. One of the best ways to manage the stressors inherent in this life-change is to learn to be purposeful in nourishing oneself, figuratively and literally. Here, we focus on literal nourishment—food. Becoming a mother is a unique time to reflect not only on what mom eats, but also on how she eats.
The way a mom eats can be a healing force. This is scientific fact, not fantasy. A 2014 article in the International Journal of Childbirth Education reported on a study of pregnant women who had experienced gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies. Mindful eating, a specific approach toward food, in combination with yoga, was found to lower blood glucose levels in the current pregnancies of those women in the study.
Since the default setting for so many women is distress or disappointment when looking into a mirror, here is some uplifting science to chew on: The American Journal of Health Promotion published a study in which a mindfulness based eating program was implemented in a work-place setting. At the conclusion of a ten-week series on mindful-eating skills, the women who participated in the program were shown to have significant improvements in body appreciation over peers who did not take part.
So what is mindfulness exactly? More specifically, what is a mindfulness based approach to eating? Though not a religious practice, the idea of mindfulness draws on traditional Buddhist meditation practices dating back more than 2000 years. Mindfulness places focus on awareness and keeping attention in the present moment. When it comes to eating, a mindfulness based approach offers that the act should be multi-sensory and purposeful. In the hectic day-to-day life of a new mother eating is seldom an act unto itself. More often, eating is conducted in conjunction with other activities—checking a Twitter feed, SnapChat account, or even while traveling from one place to the next. Mindful eating is meant to be its own act, performed thoughtfully and singularly.
How might mindful eating look in practice? Imagine this: A simple bowl of penne pasta with marinara sauce sits on a table. Whereas the impulse might be to dive headfirst into the mound of tubular goodness, instead one chooses to pause for a moment. External distractions are limited. A cell phone is silenced, the lap-top is closed, and baby is placed in the bouncer. Then, the chunks of juicy tomato shimmering in the sauce are observed. One indulges in a deep breath in through the nose, inhaling the garlic and oregano-infused steam. Salivating yet? The experience could even be verbalized and shared with baby. “This pasta smells soooo yummy! The steam feels like a little kiss on the nose.” Gracefully, the hollow noodle is slipped onto the spear of the fork, as the sauce clings to its edges. Slowly, the fork meets the mouth as the warm and tender pasta slides onto the tongue and the parmesean flakes melt and disintegrate. This, in a very-simplified nutshell, is mindful eating. In limiting other distractions one is free to draw attention more fully to the food she is about to enjoy. Utilizing all the senses expands the experience of eating, making it more of a pleasurable activity not simply a necessity.
Eating in a mindful way offers the added advantage of slowing down the act of eating itself. This can have real implications for weight loss and weight management. When people eat quickly, they deprive the digestive and nervous systems of the chance to communicate with one another. According to dietitian Joanne V. Lichten, Ph.D., it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register that the stomach is feeling full. Eating quickly increases the likelihood of over eating. No one should be expected to be able to sit down on a daily basis for a leisurely two hour lunch (at least, no one who has any idea what early child-care entails) but the principle of pace-setting in a realistic way can be modified to work for moms. Even by placing baby in his bassinette or swing for ten minutes—five even—and employing all the maternal senses to focus solely on the meal at hand, the dining experience can be transformed. The result may be a more relaxing experience and perhaps one that requires less food to feel full. Ready to give more mindful-eating a try? Share your experience in the comments.
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Stadtlander, L. (2014). Mindful eating and pregnancy. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 29(3), 16-19.
Bush, H. E., Rossy, L., Mintz, L. B., & Schopp, L. (2014). Eat for Life: A work site feasibility study of a novel mindfulness-based intuitive eating intervention. American Journal of Health Promotion, 28(6), 380-388.
Roizman, T. (2016, February 22). “How Does Your Stomach Tell Your Brain That You’re Full? Livestrong.com Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/480254-how-long-does-it-take-your-brain-to-register-that-the-stomach-is-full/