our children the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger
begins with our modeling. Watching others and then responding to or imitating appears to be hardwired in the brain. We have “Mirror Neurons” in our brains which prime our bodies for action and where we may pick up the non-verbal intention and goals of others (Marco Iacoboni; Giacomo Tizzolatti; Parenting from
the Inside Out (Siegel/Hartzell 03).
What we show our children on a daily
basis about how we satisfy these sometimes complex urges is the most
important factor in giving them the ability to choose healthy eating
habits for life. I grew up in a household where we avoided or stuffed
our difficult feelings from anger to sadness with foods. I spent my
college years unlearning the patterns of behavior that I had been exposed
to. I knew intellectually about good nutrition and the benefits of exercise,
but I did not implement them well. My relationship with food was much
more complex. I had to learn to how to identify feelings and use food
as a fuel for me; not rely on food to numb me and change my mood. Now
with the eyes of my children on me, I can model ways for them to improve
their moods without food and create "happy hormones", the
chemicals in the body that promote a state of well-being. We all benefit.
Playful movement: aerobic exercise increases endorphins, the
“opiates” of the brain. It also decreases stress hormones, helps offset food cravings, and increases neuroplasticity. It raises the metabolism so that we
may even lose weight while we sleep (Sears & Sears Lean Kids). Play outside in nature whenever you can. At home, put on your favorite music and dance!
2 Breathing through the nose “Mouth breathing
is not a natural way to breathe. In fact, it triggers a stress response
in the body, complete with all the fight-or-flight hormones....Nose
breathing helps ensure better development of the jaw and facial bones.
It also helps keep the rib cage flexible because it directs the air
to the bottom of the lungs, where there is more blood to be oxygenated.
Breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs expands the rib cage with
each breath, while mouth breathing expands only the upper lobes. Taking
full, deep breaths through the nose also warms the air and filters it
past the sinuses so that the mucosal immunes system is more likely to
be able to filter out dust and other particles.” (Mother Daughter
Wisdom, Northrup, 2005). Teach your child to listen to their "nose-breathing",
ask them to put a pillow or a stuffed animal on his or her tummy and watch the pillow go up and down.
If you want to guide your child, lead him or her for an inhale count of five; exhale for a count of 7.
3. Meditation enhances endorphin levels in the brain,
improves the cardiac, digestive, and immune systems as well as decreases stress.
Researchers are finding beneficial structural changes in the brains
of those who meditate after as little as six weeks of daily meditation. Children who are taught to focus on their “in
and out breath” may improve their attention in classrooms. Begin with ten minutes a day. Meditation
does not have to be formal…just sit comfortably, breathe-in-and-out. Breathe a smile in; exhale a smile out. Notice the belly rise and fall. In classrooms, I call it "focus exercises". Visit www.marc.edu.ucla to learn more about the benefits of meditation.
4. Massage increases the “feel good" hormones.
Our skin is the largest organ of our body. Ten strokes down the back
of your child’s spine can help reduce stress and integrate left/right
brain thinking before class or tests! Making "Circles" counter-clockwise
down the spine helps reduce excess energy or “Qi” which
translates into greater relaxation; a good thing to do when winding-down
at bedtime. (Making circles clockwise up the back helps children wake
up in the morning). Playing games like writing on the child’s
back or on the forearm with our fingers also increases the happy hormones (endorphins).
With my finger I write my daughter’s spelling words on her back
and let her guess which words I am writing. We also practice math facts!
Make applying sunscreen fun through intention. After baths think about adding a daily routine of a brief massage for your child. Give "Goodmorning" wake up hugs and gentle back massages.
5. Reduce the impact of stressful events by journaling, making
a book, or doing a creative project with your child. Stress or trauma
is not integrated or transformed by eating. Research shows that when
we write or talk we improve our cardiac, immune, and endocrine systems. This is especially helpful for parents because a parent who takes care of his or her own feelings is better able to calm and be present with his/her child-reducing the impact of the stress on the child (Parenting from the Inside Out by Siegel and Hartzell).
When children experience an upsetting situation such as a move or divorce,
sometimes making a book and talking about it will help the child make sense of the event. Putting words to feelings also
creates left and right brain integration which calms down the fear response
in the brain and body. My friend’s son fell and broke his front tooth.
Writing a book about how he broke his tooth, helped him find some closure.
Children often need to read the book over and over with you until they
have made sense of the experience.
6. Do more messy art! Hands that are messy with paint,
markers, or clay often do not snack. This was a lifesaver for me
growing up. When I painted, I was so deeply satisfied that I didn’t
feel like eating.
7. Rest, naps, sleep, or tea time helps our bodies
self-regulate. Research shows that we often eat more when we are tired.
I know I do. Sleep is good for neuroplasticity. If I can't nap, I take a few moments to slow down, meditate, or to quiet myself. With family and friends, we sometimes sit and drink a hot cup of tea in the
afternoon to restore our focus in the present and awaken our energy.
My children like peppermint tea. While breastfeeding babies, I recommend
room temperature teas just in case the tea spills.
8. Teach your child to sew or knit. Many Waldorf schools
teach knitting. There are many benefits to learning to knit. One of
them is that occupied hands can’t eat at the same time. Knitting
can help develop stronger hand-and-mind coordination in young people as well as relieve stress and lower blood pressure in adults, experts say.
9. Give yourself "Put Ups"! Positive self-talk
helps us rewire the neurons that fire in the brain. Place Post-it notes
with affirmations on them such as “Breathe-Exhale”; “I
make healthy food choices.” Skeptical?? Put one up in the cabinet
with your comfort foods and see if it doesn’t change your focus.
“Take a breath; I am safe” After a while you will
internalize the ideas.
10. Feeling Angry or critical? Don’t take it out on yourself!
Move away from the kitchen! Journal. Write a letter without sending
it. Walk it off. Be kind; let yourself unwind.
Model healthy eating by doing it and showing it. Show: Not Tell!!
Recommended Nutrition Books:
Prescription for Natural Cures by James F. Balch, M.D.
Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
Smart Medicine for Healthier Living Janet Zand, LAc,OMD