It’s been said that in France, people eat a bit differently than in the US. I hear that meals take longer (2+ hours), they share meals, they eat three main meals (not many snacks), and do not house many fast food joints. All these factors seem to contribute to the fact that the French boast lower obesity rates than their Western counterparts of Canada, UK and the USA, at around 23% (compared to 34% in the US.) In addition to these differences, a key factor supposedly accounts for their leanness: Eating Slowly.
Intuitive Eating, as it’s called, is the idea of eating for satisfaction, focusing on balanced nutrition, but not dieting, on fullness but not restriction. In their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, authors Evelyn Tribole (MS, RD) and Elyse Resche (MS, RDN) highlight three aspects to eating, including Slow, Savor and Sensual, in that “by slowing down and savoring, we can notice the enjoyable qualities of food and recognize when we’re comfortably satisfied (Brown, Kelsey, MEd, CHES Stop Dieting, Start Intuitive Eating).”
Indeed, the research backs up this theory as well. In a Pediatric Obesity Journal report, children who chewed each bite for 30 seconds as instructed, and drank water before each meal, lost more weight than the control group. And another study in the Obesity Journal notes that after a one-year intervention, obese participants in a mindfulness centered eating plan improved fasting glucose and HDL cholesterol levels better than their counterparts.
All great news for those of us who like to enjoy a calm, leisurely meal.
It sounded so easy, in fact, that when I returned home from a mini family vacation in the down-home, slow-paced cornfields of Iowa, that I determined to give this cow-paced eating a try. So what follows is a Day-by-Day recap and case study to determine if it is actually possible to enjoy (and even SAVOR!) your meals while eating with your children. Young children, I might add.
Originally the case study ran seven days. But unfortunately I failed to keep up with my log after Day 4, and due to the mental deterioration associated with motherhood. I can only offer you my incomplete, yet scientifically grounded yet-to-be-officially-published, 4-Day study. The guidelines for my trial included chewing each bite completely, preferably at least 10 times; no reading of paper or using the phone during meals; sit-down at the table; and occasionally put down utensils to emphasize mindfulness.
For no apparent reason, I included my actual meal for you, maybe to inspire, maybe to intrigue.
DAY 1 (Sunday): Breakfast: Oatmeal, Smoothie and Tea
*Note* Recovering from respiratory infection.
Result: SUCCESS! Due to being sick, I had no appetite, so what I did eat, I had to force myself to eat.
Lunch: Ugali with Lentil Soup
Result: Appetite apparently improving, as my husband reminds me that I’m supposed to be eating slowly.
Dinner: Veggie Burgers with roasted veggies and a salad
Result: Success! Day 1 Complete! This will be a breeze.
DAY 2: Breakfast: Scrambled egg wraps and fruit medley
Result: Half-Success. Enjoyed half of breakfast in peace until the toddler came in to attack the fruit. Potty training mode begins. Extra challenge to eat slowly upon return to the table, knowing the electric company was scheduled to come at 9!
Lunch: Boiled egg sandwich, salad, orange
Result: Success! Due to electric company invading our home, we lunched at my parents. Not much going on, so a very mindful meal.
Dinner: Leftover Soup and Ugali
Result: Half-Success. I successfully put my utensil down often during my meal, so as to accommodate the insistent 9 month old
piranha baby, who also wanted to eat, but apparently not following our slow-eating trial.
DAY 3: Breakfast: Leftover Oatmeal with Banana, with Tea
Result: FAIL. Needed to be at work by 5:45 for my first client, so needless to say I chose extra sleep over rising early. Did not finish breakfast until mid-morning.
Lunch: Cereal with strawberries
Result: Fail. Read the paper while trying to eat, then just read paper as baby decided she wanted mama’s milk NOW. An attempt to continue eating resulted in the
piranha baby abruptly stopping to investigate what I put in my mouth. Finished my lunch (quickly) after she went down for her nap.
Dinner: Fish, baked potatoes, steamed carrots
Result: Fail. Issued one toddler timeout due to unruly behavior, with a continued battle to sit still, while simultaneously finger feeding the
piranha baby and utensil feeding myself.
DAY 4: Breakfast: (memory loss…coffee?)
Lunch: Leftover veggies with a peanut butter & banana wrap
Result: Fail. Upon returning from work, my first parental duty involved enforcing nap time. This began around 2pm (after I heated up lunch), and ended a little after 3, at which point I ate my meal sporadically standing up, while repeatedly chasing toddler back to his lair.
Supper: Pasta with broccoli
Result: Semi-Success! Enjoyed a relatively calm meal for half of the time, while spoon feeding baby. Also felt satisfactorily full upon completion.
Conclusion: Luckily for you, there’s really no need to see the rest of the week’s study, since it basically repeated itself. Surprisingly, the biggest challenge actually involved me not reading the paper, or reading anything, actually. To sit, and just munch. Munch. Munch. I suppose it might have knit my heart more closely to my meal, but in reality I found it very boring. I can’t say why, but reading while eating (alone) is a cherished pastime, one that happens less frequently than I prefer.
So if mindful eating requires deliberate chomps, fork table touches, and staring blissfully across the room for an hour, I think I might have to take early retirement from parenting.
In the meantime, I might take a trip to France to find a mom’s group, and gather empirical evidence on this mindful eating
*As a follow up, I must say I just enjoyed a slow-paced dinner (while reading the paper). The trick? Put the kids in bed early. Then go eat supper. 🙂
References: ProCon. The Leading Source for Controversial Issues. Global Obesity Levels. http://obesity.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006032#global-levels. 4/28/2016.
Archer, Shirley. Mindful Eating and Type 2 Diabetes. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/mindful-eating-and-type-2-diabetes. 9/22/2016.
Brown, Kelsey. Stop Dieting, Start Intuitive Eating. Idea Fitness Journal, February 2017.
Webster. Sandy Todd. Coaching Kids to Eat More Slowly Can Slash Weight. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/coaching-kids-to-eat-more-slowly-can-slash-weight-0. 04/21/2016.