Lessons I've learned from dental difficulties: how to eat mindfully, and help our children
I am doing a lot of thinking about food and eating recently, which I suppose we do often at this time of the year especially!
After several weeks of quite a lot of pain whilst getting a great deal of very necessary dental work done, I am finally rejoicing in being able to eat proper food, albeit soft food still for another two months.
I am learning to enjoy taking in a small amount of food into my mouth, cautiously allowing my sensitive teeth to close around the food, and gradually, as it softens, tasting the vivid flavours and the textures, till I can swallow it and gain the nourishment it gives.
I am very thankful to say that my experience over the past three months of dental treatment has meant that I have lost some weight, a goal also common to many of us after months of quarantine and sedentary lifestyles at home.
Thinking of how automatically and plentifully I used to eat – it has reminded me of what I have read so many times: that part of weight loss is eating only what we do need, no more, no less, and making it nourishing for our bodies.
It has also been a very good reminder to me about how much we take eating and chewing and our teeth for granted, and even our food!
Thinking about each mouthful, mindfully munching. Being aware of how we use our tongues and teeth. Coordinating our mouths to eat… For me as a Speech and Language Therapist, it has been a great reminder of all these things we usually do automatically as second nature.
For example, I have so often bitten the inside of my cheek, or had mouth ulcers, during this period, and have been reminded about how difficult it is even to clean my teeth at those times
It has also prompted me to think of our children, and how eating is often a crucial part of our challenges with helping them to learn.
Apart from tolerating new tastes and textures, which every child learns to do in their own way and with our encouragement, our children often face particular sensory issues with eating:
Sensation in the mouth may be too much or too little
Tastes may sometimes be intolerable
Textures of certain types might be unbearable
Ulcers or areas where the tongue or cheeks inside got bitten because of poor oral coordination can be particularly painful
As Mums, we often battle on, trying to get our child to eat, without being aware of the particular issue our child is facing. This is made all the more difficult since our child is not able to express his/her feelings or describe what his / her reactions might mean.
Let’s start with ourselves! How to be more mindful of what our children feel when eating:
We can consciously make ourselves aware of what is happening with our child when we ourselves eat, if we are:
Taking note of how it feels in the mouth - it helps you know how your child feels!
Noting what we do, as adults, when we don’t like the taste or texture or cannot chew properly. (spit it out? swallow without chewing?)
Registering the feeling and reluctance of being asked to eat something we don’t particularly like. (as an adult, we can rationalise - I tell myself, “I will try it once, if i don’t like it - never again!” - so perhaps that is how we need to help our child: talk it through simply and calmly even if we do not think they will understand the words - your child will understand your approach!)
Deciding when to substitute a food to help the child deal with an issue - for example, if we see that the mouth is sore, reducing the strong flavours, and perhaps giving softer or soupy foods till it heals. Mouth wash with warm salty water helps
Have a mindful meal
Just as with mindful breathing and meditation, perhaps we can set aside a sort of Mindful Meal, every now and again, that may help us to be more aware of our child’s particular difficulty in eating, and make adjustments accordingly?
It is also a really great way to celebrate our food, which I hope you will at your next meal!
P.S. As a Mum I know one of the reasons for my putting on weight especially after my last baby was because I had this urge not to waste food, and I often used to finish off my children’s food when they couldn’t.
I remember thinking at one time, that actually, when I finish my child’s food, I am not teaching my child anything helpful, but I am adding to my own waist! So actually, it’s more waist-ful to finish your child’s food than it is waste-ful! (pun intended!)
There’s a saying in Pushto: “Eat a little and eat well, eat a lot, and eat badly”, the age-old quality versus quantity argument.
I guess for me, this is something I hope to continue to keep in my mind in future, when I eat - and I wish for you the same too.
Enjoy your next mindful meal!