A recent article in The New York Times discussed what new moms know all too well: mothers with small children get less exercise and eat more calories from saturated fat and sweetened drinks than women without children, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics. This exemplifies the pivotal question mothers everywhere ask themselves every single day: "How do I balance taking care of myself and my children at the same time?"
Here are seven common traps new moms fall into that lead them right into mindless eating. See if these habits sound familiar.
1) The Snack Trap
Kids snack frequently during the day on crackers, fruit with peanut butter, cereal and the like. But keep in mind that they only eat a little bit at a time and expend a lot of energy toddling around. It's tempting to join right in each time your child snacks.
The Mindful Mom: Gauge your hunger. If you do have frequent snacks with your little ones, make sure it is a baby-sized portion. Use the same dish each time you snack to help you measure it out and make the size consistent. Like setting your child's sleep schedule, you can also strategically set your own snack schedule.
2) The Comfort-Eating Trap
Moms are stress experts. Think poopy diapers, sleepless nights and kids who stubbornly refuse to nap. Unfortunately, eating is a quick and easy way to obtain momentary pleasure.
The Mindful Mom: It's tough to break the stress-eating habit. Instead, find ways to calm and soothe yourself without food. For example, a cup of black tea has been clinically proven to reduce cortisol levels, your stress hormone. Buy a fun magazine to flip through during nap time, or invest in calming music. While a personal masseuse would be ideal and well deserved, read up on self-massage techniques in "50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food."
3) The Feeding Trap
Trying to feed a toddler and yourself at the same time can feel like a real juggling act. It's easy to lose track of what and how much you are eating when you are stuffing food in your mouth quickly between your child's bites.
The Mindful Mom: As hard as it may be, try to eat before or after your child is done. Ideally, it would be nice to take turns feeling your child with your co-parent. However, this may not be possible if you are a stay-at-home mom, are a single parent or have a partner who is unwilling to take on this duty. Although waiting is tough, doing so will ensure that you will be more in charge of your portion sizes and give you the opportunity to taste and enjoy your meal.
4) The Clean-Up Crew Trap
It's frustrating when kids take one bite of their peanut butter sandwich and leave the rest completely untouched. Moms often find themselves unconsciously eating their kid's leftovers to prevent it from going to waste or just because it is there.
The Mindful Mom: Invest in small, snack-sized containers designated specifically for leftovers. If it is something you just can't save, remember that endangering your health isn't a good alternative to throwing away food. Feed the remainder to the birds or use it for compost.
5) The Exhaustion Trap
If you are a new parent, you know what it is like to feel completely and utterly exhausted. Be cautious of using food as an energy replacement. Lack of sleep negatively impacts your appetite hormones that regulate satiety and fullness cues.
The Mindful Mom: Notice whether you are in the habit of eating for an energy boost instead of to quiet a rumbling stomach. More sleep would be ideal. Until your child turns the corner and begins snoozing through the night, be sure to regulate your blood sugar with healthy, whole-grain foods (oatmeal, 100-percent whole wheat, fruits, etc.). If you can't get more sleep at the moment, try a few moments of simply resting and allowing yourself some down time. Play quietly on the floor with your baby. On the flip side, exercise can also be energizing. Put the baby in the stroller and go for a brisk walk to get your blood moving and pump oxygen to your brain. Or, use your baby as your dance partner.
6) The Kid Food Trap
Foods marketed to children can be extremely deceptive. Don't assume that it is healthy because it's packaged for tots. Drink boxes and packaged snacks are often filled with sugar and artificial coloring to attract kids.
The Mindful Mom: Stick to foods that are as close to nature as you can find. A whole piece of fruit is a good bet and very portable. If you buy snack foods in a bag, be sure to carefully check the label to ensure that the snacks aren't pumped up with flavoring and unnecessary sweetening.
7) The Pajama Pants Trap
If you are a stay-at-home mom or stick close to home with your tots, it's easy to spend the morning in your sweats. Clothing helps us to be more aware of our bodies. The way your clothing fits is often your first clue that you are gaining or losing weight.
The Mindful Mom: Although it sounds simple enough, getting dressed first thing in the morning can help you to eat better. Wearing your everyday clothing can make you feel good about yourself and alerts you right away to any changes in your body.
Remember that taking care of yourself ultimately makes you a better mom. Happy Mother's Day to new moms everywhere!
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For an interview on moms and mindful eating tips, email Dr. Albers.