Do you love M-N-A’s? My three year old does. He only recently discovered M&M’s in trail mix when I missed picking one of the dark brown ones out of the handful I was giving him. He, in great surprise, shouted out, “I got one of Mama’s things! And it had CHOCOLATE inside!” I replied, “Yes. Those are M&M’s.” His response, “I LOVE M-N-A’s! And I LOVE CHOCOLATE!”
Yes, there was definitely enough enthusiasm to caps all of those words in our conversation. So, since that point on he’s been allowed the occasional M-N-A on a day he’s been good. This started me thinking about my own relationships with chocolate. It was really kind of sobering to hear him exclaim that the candy was “Mama’s”. I didn’t realize that he was noticing that I eat candy and he does not.
When he was born, or even before we knew he was a he, my husband and I had decided to try and limit the sweets and processed foods that our child was going to get. We agreed on a no soda or fast food until age 5 rule. That rule has not been broken unless you count Subway and other deli’s as fast food. Has he had a french fry? Yes, he’s had them and eats them occasionally with cheeseburgers as most kids do. We have ice cream and frozen yogurt for special occasions, cakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc. I have in no way deprived my child of the experiences of sugar laden treats, but all in moderation.
We have a couple of cheats that we use and know will expire in the future as he gets older. For example: Trick or Treating. On Halloween we took him out and he collected all of this candy. We came home and he was allowed to eat all of the raisins he got until he exploded and ONE piece of candy of his choosing. Last year I chose for him, but this past Halloween I let him pick. He chose a Butterfinger and other than the chocolate part, was not really impressed. This surprised me as he loves peanut butter too. So, how did we deal with the rest of the candy? We left it for The Great Pumpkin who then brought him some really cool pencils and a light up necklace the next morning.
Then, my husband and I proceeded to eat all of the remaining candy over the following days and weeks. I just never realized that in doing so I was being watched. I should know this by now. My three year old is a parrot and an aper. So now he has picked up my love of chocolate by watching me devour it in front of him. I am blessed to know that he still chooses black beans and veggie sticks over goldfish crackers and gummy worms.
So, this brings me to Mindful Eating. This is a concept I’ve been talking with people about a lot recently. It was taught to me at this great place in Vermont where I did my internship 10 years ago: Green Mountain At Fox Run. The gist behind Mindful Eating is very similar to a practice that we use in yoga: being in the moment. In yoga we ask our participants to let go of everything around them and to pay attention to their breath, how they feel, what they are experiencing, and what their body is telling them. In exercise terms we relate this to kinesthetic awareness or somato-sensory awareness.
My son eats mindfully. Honestly, both of them do. My youngest is still breastfeeding and has refused all solid foods at this point. He eats until he is full and then stops. He knows when that is and refuses to latch on again until he is hungry once more. My oldest asks for snacks at differing times of the day and not every day. He sometimes does not want to eat when the rest of us are eating because he hasn’t expended all of his previous meal. He is still asked to sit at the table and to try the food, but we try not to enforce the clean plate club at our house. I find that I too am a mindful eater, but not on purpose. Rather, by accident.
Mindful eating means being in the moment of enjoying, savoring, and fully experiencing your food. It means eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you are full. It also means eating what you know your body needs and wants without trying to substitute for it, feeling guilty during or after eating it, or punishing yourself with exercise because of what you ate. So, how did I become a mindful eater? A long time ago when I was a young girl I had a very strained relationship with food. I was told that I was “fat” by someone who meant a lot to me at the time and whose opinion of me mattered. I was 5’8″ and 100ish lbs. I was anything but fat. But this caused me to avoid food despite the hunger that raged inside of me. I wanted sweet things and I would sneak them as able. However, I wouldn’t let anyone see me eat. It really damaged my ability to eat.
Over time I created new relationships that allowed me to feel comfortable with people seeing me put food into my mouth, chew, and swallow it. However, I was always very aware of how the food felt, tasted, and smelled. I became a very picky eater and wanted only really bland food items. I had a strange obsession with brushing my teeth after every meal. I was religious about not tasting food past the point of a meal.
Almost 20 years has passed since my first real struggle with food and now I find myself eating a variety of things. I still crave those sweet indulgences, but have learned to taste each sugary morsel of a cookie without feeling bad for having eaten it. I take my time chewing my fruits and vegetables in order to savor the sweetness that comes from the breakdown of their natural sugars as I eat, but don’t use them to cure my chocolate fix. I would still rather eat a box of Thin Mints over a single Brussels sprout, but I’m working on increasing my enjoyment of a variety of foods.
So, as you go to dinner tonight, remember to eat like a pauper and pretend you’re tasting wine. Breath in the aromas, roll the food around in your mouth, and be mindful that moderation is key.