How many lunches have you mindlessly consumed over the copy machine? Over a stack of papers needing grades? I find that when I am at work I am usually trying to eat as quickly as possible, while getting something else done at the same time. When you have to talk to a student after class, use the restroom, and complete other tasks during your thirty minute lunch period the time left for actual eating can be very limited. The speediness of my food consumption is not improved on a day when I am trying to eat a frozen dinner that contains noodles, using a plastic spoon, while using the copy machine because my lesson plan for my next class required wifi access that is suddenly not accessible.
In the school lunchroom, eating can be a stress inducing task for students as well. The staff is forced to rush students out to the yard to make room for the next wave of students. It is incredibly noisy and unpleasant.
When my daughter was in elementary school, I remember lunch being her number one complaint. It took so long to wait in line to get the food that once you finally got to sit down and eat it, you had five minutes in a noisy and chaotic environment to consume your food as quickly as possible before being rushed out to the next area. We tried to start packing lunches at home so the line could be avoided, but there were always those days where we were running late. When I had to inform her that she would have to have "hot lunch" I felt terribly bad about it.
I urge you to observe what your students lunch time experience is like and to ask them about it. Do they avoid lunch altogether and binge eat when they get home? Do they eat too quickly? Do they take a few bites and then throw their food away? Are they policed to be silent at their lunch tables? Are they treated like human beings? Are we inadvertently teaching our children some very unhealthy eating habits? I think our kids deserve better than this.
The Effects of Poor Eating Habits
Because I work with children, when I think about weight loss my thoughts often turn to them. Nothing is more heartbreaking than the look on a child's face when they enter the room and see that the desks have seats attached. You can see the anxiety overcome them as they worry about whether or not they will fit, or if they will get stuck. I am not overweight, but I witness the emotional damage that being overweight can cause adolescents on a daily basis; both at home and at school. The ridicule and emotional stress make it that much harder to lose the weight. Childhood obesity is a problem that is not only our responsibility as parents and educators , but a costly issue that our nation needs to address as well.
The economic consequences of childhood obesity are typically categorized as direct, such as medical costs, and indirect, such as job absenteeism. The direct costs of childhood obesity include annual prescription drug, emergency room, and outpatient costs of $14.1 billion,29 plus inpatient costs of $237.6 million.30
An even larger cost is incurred when obese children become obese adults. About a third of obese preschool children, and about half of obese school-age children, become obese adults.31 The estimated annual cost of treating obesity-related illness in adults is $147 billion.32 The medical costs of obesity are so substantial that the rise in obesity explains 27 percent of the rise in health care spending between 1987 and 2001.33
John Cawly, "The Economics of Childhood Obesity"
I recognize that I need to make better choices about my own eating habits, especially when I am at school. Those menial tasks that I am performing during my lunch break will surely still be waiting for me after school. I will probably enjoy them more if I am not hurrying to perform them, while checking the clock as I race through the process of shoveling noodles in my face. Getting those papers copied or graded will not impact my students’ lives in the same way that inviting them to mindfully eat their lunch with me will.
I believe I will have instant buy-in on this aspect of mindfulness because my kids love eating lunch with me. The hard part is going to be teaching them the practice. I also think that I will need to bring lots of extra food too. I eat lunch with my students a couple of times a week already, and what I have noticed is that a lot of them are very hungry, but don't have food to eat, or access to the school's free lunch.
What is Mindful Eating?
Growing up, I was often the last person left at the table. My siblings thought it was a strategy I employed to avoid washing the dishes. I thought it was just because I chewed my food more than they did. No one enjoys washing dishes, but that really wasn’t the reason for my careful degustation. Reflecting on my eating habits, I wasn’t simply chewing my food, but rather I was eating mindfully. I chewed my food yes, sometimes I even counted to see if I could chew it forty eight times. I was also thinking about how my food felt in my mouth; how it tasted. Sometimes I would try to see if it tasted differently in different areas of my mouth. I would see if I could notice the salty, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors on the parts of my tongue that I knew contained taste receptors for those flavors. I observed the eating habits of others, the patterns on the silverware, and enjoyed the social aspect of a shared meal.
My former elementary school colleagues can attest to the fact that I am still a very slow eater. I so enjoyed our one day of the week that we got to have a real "grown-up" lunch. They would often jokingly usher me to the front of the line so that I would get my food first, because it took me so much longer to consume it. I think I have always had the makings of a mindful eater.
Mindful eating can help you to recognize your body's fullness and hunger cues and distinguish between cravings that are emotional vs. physical. Learn more about Mindful Eating:
- "Eating This Way Can Improve Heart Health" from TIME Magazine
- "The Surprising Benefits of Mindful Eating" from The Huffington Post
- "Mindful Eating as Food for Thought" from The New York Times
- The Principles of Mindful Eating from The Center for Mindful Eating
- PDF Handout (I will be sharing this with my lunch bunch)