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Mindful Eating

Posted Sep 23 2009 4:03pm

Mindfulness is the act of paying full, non-judgmental attention to our moment-to-moment experience.  We can use mindfulness to free ourselves from unhealthy eating habits and improve our overall quality of life.

Mindful eating is a practice that engages all parts of us_our body, our heart, and our mind-in choosing, preparing, and eating food.  It allows us to pay attention to colors, textures, scents, tastes, and even sounds of drinking and eating.

An example of mindful eating may look like this….Ben came home from a busy day of work, he was feeling depleted and tired.  He went into the kitchen and grabbed some chips and cookies from the cupboard and started eating them while trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner.  He ends up eating too much of the chips and cookies and therefore he isn’t very hungry for dinner.  He scolds himself that he has eaten too much and didn’t really enjoy what he was eating.  He decides he ate too much and will not be having dinner.

The next time, Ben gets home and is hungry and is feeling tired and depleted.  He checks in with himself around how he is feeling before automatically going to the kitchen for food.  He realizes that he needs some down time and finds a quiet spot to be quiet before deciding what to make for dinner.  Ten minutes later Ben feels refreshed and is able to attend to his feelings of tiredness and even sadness.  He meets both physical and mental feelings with attention and compassion.  Now he can choose something to eat with a clear mind and pay attention to what would best nourish him.  He can eat his meal slowly and really taste what he is eating and enjoy his evening.

Steps to Mindful Eating

1)  Slow it Down- It was found that in America, we often grab and go. Research shows that we spend only eleven minutes eating lunch at a fast-food restaurant and thirteen minutes at a cafeteria in their workplace.

Tips to Slowing Down

One can make a point of pausing before we eat to see the colors, roll food around in our mouths to really detect the flavors and ingredients.
If you notice that you are eating without tasting stop and pause to look at the food again.
Putting down your fork and spoon between bites is a wonderful tool to slow down.  After you have tasted and swallowed your food, you can then pick up your food again.

2)  Right Amount- This statement of right amount stems from the buddhist teaching of the eightfold path to enlightenment.   In the Buddhist teachings “right” means appropriate, beneficial, leading to happiness and freedom.  What, then is the “right amount” ?

One way to understand fullness is to check in with the body and see if you feel satisfied.
A helpful tool to use would be to ask yourself if you think you can take a 10 minute brisk walk.  If you can, you have had the right amount.  If you can’t you know you probably ate too much.
Mindful Eating is a practice, so the more you practice, the easier it will come.

3)  Energy Balance- There is an energy balance between what we take into our body for energy (food) and what energy we put out through exercise or activity.  Several studies highlight the importance of staying at a healthy weight and to prevent chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.  Therefore, we can think of the energy balance in terms of weight management.  When we bring too much energy into the body, we gain weight.

When we bring in the same amount of energy into the body as we utilize in our activity we maintain our weight.  Lastly, when we bring in less energy and put out more activity through activity we lose weight.  In order to lose weight, we have to decrease the amount of energy we bring into our bodies through food or increase the energy flowing out.  Usually, a combination of eating less and being more active allows us to eat a moderate amount of foods we like while staying healthy with our activity.

4)  Eating Alternatives- We all have different cravings for foods.  We might have a sweet tooth or crave more salty high fat foods such as chips.  Whatever our craving is can get in the way of choosing foods that might be more supportive and nourishing to our bodies.

The Healthy Food Pyramid supports the following nutrition guidelines:
whole grains at most meals
foods that are lower on the glycemic index (lower sugars)
lots of fruits and veggies
low saturated and trans fats
incorporate lean meats, such as fish, beans, soy, and nuts for protein sources
If you stick with these tips in mind, you can consciously choose healthier substitutes for your sugar and salt cravings.

For example, if you consciously choose a slice of whole grain bread with almond butter, and agave nectar drizzled on it instead of a bowl of ice cream, you are making use of mindful eating.

5)  Wise Choice- Another helpful tip in our mindful eating is to recognize a craving for something and consciously decide if it’s something that you really, really want. Sometimes it is helpful to put foods on a scale of 0-10.  If foods rate over a 7, then it’s probably a food that you really, really want, but if it’s less than a 7, then you can pass and not feel like you are denying yourself something you really want.

For example, if you walk into an office and food is just lying around, but it’s not something you really, really want you can easily pass it up and say to yourself, “No Thanks.”

Summary of Mindful Eating

Slow down
Take a pause and conscious choice before eating
Take breaks while eating to really enjoy and assess your fullness and satiety
Mindfully choose healthier alternatives
Choose what you really, really want and enjoy it.

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