Is Your Baby Destined to be Fat? Start Mindful Eating at an Early Age

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
You probably don't see many kids tracking their food or counting their steps. That's because dieting and weight loss are generally adult concerns—after all, youngsters still have lightning-fast metabolisms and don't need to worry about their weight, right? Well, yes and no. While it's true that children have a higher metabolic rate, it's never too early to start fostering healthy eating habits. In fact, some recent research has found that adopting mindful practices as early as infancy can have dramatic effects on long-term health.
Determining a Child’s Risk Factors
study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that an infant's risk factors for obesity can be predicted as early as six months after birth. According to the study's lead author, Dr. Allison Smego, a baby with a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile on the growth chart has an increased chance of becoming obese and developing metabolic disorders. She recommends monitoring these high-risk children from a very young age.
As a parent, you probably would never think to measure your baby's BMI, but Dr. Smego says it's a good practice for predicting and preventing obesity. "Pediatricians can identify high-risk infants with [a] BMI above the 85th percentile, and focus additional counseling and education regarding healthy lifestyles toward the families of these children," Dr. Smego says. She believes that knowledgeable parents will be better able to establish healthy habits, mitigating their children's risk factors and encouraging mindful eating practices as they grow older.
Understanding Adolescent Obesity
There's been a lot of buzz around mindfulness lately, both in terms of mindful exercise and mindful eating. According to researchers at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, a heightened awareness of diet and activity could be the key to preventing obesity in teens.
During a recent study, a group of overweight ninth-graders participated in a series of mindfulness seminars, during which they were trained to be aware of their breathing, their sense of taste, their hunger levels and how their emotions affect their eating habits. Additionally, students learned about the benefits of mindful movement by incorporating pedometers and walking meditation in their routine.
The researchers found that students who took part in the instructive intervention ate better and exercised more at the conclusion of the study. And over the course of six months, the teens increased their amount of vigorous physical activity to 4.3 days per week, while those in the control group dropped to two days per week.
Dr. Vernon Barnes, the study's lead author, believes parents can instill healthy habits by encouraging teens to be aware of their eating, breathing and physical activity, making them less prone to struggling with weight-related issues as adults.
6 Tips for Teaching Mindful Eating to Kids
Kids and teens tend to wolf down their food without much thought. You can help raise their awareness of what they're consuming by encouraging them to adopt these mindful eating strategies:
  1. Use all five senses. Encourage kids to not only taste their food, but also to look at it, smell it, touch it and even listen to it. This will slow down the eating process, promote thorough chewing and healthier digestion, and help them savor the flavors and texture of their food.
  2. Only eat when you're hungry. According to Pavel G. Somov, author of Eating the Moment, these include physical hunger, psychological hunger ("the need to be entertained, comforted or distracted") and habit, when eating is triggered by outside stimuli not related to hunger. Teach kids to recognize and avoid emotional eating and eating out of boredom.
  3. Serve media-free meals. Kids who watch TV or play on an electronic device during meals are more likely to eat past the point of fullness. Declare the table a screen-free zone, so they can focus on bites instead of bytes. (Same goes for books or other distractions.)
  4. Involve kids in the prep work. When they're exposed to the ingredients and effort that go into preparing every meal, kids may be more likely to appreciate—and savor—the end result. Also, encourage kids to dole out their own foods so they get a feel for serving sizes.
  5. Make meals a positive experience. Resist the urge to nag your child to eat the broccoli he hates, and instead comment on how great it is that he loves corn. Kids have their own individual tastes that should be respected (although it's a good practice to introduce, or re-introduce, new foods and textures).
  6. Talk during meals. Family dinner conversation isn't just good for bonding: It also helps to slow down the eating process so kids can register when they start to feel full. 
"Mindful eating has an intent that at the end of the meal, the person will feel physically better after eating than before," according to the Center for Mindful Eating.
How do you promote healthy eating for your kids? Do you think it's ever too early to start?