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Three Tips on Psychologically Healthy Eating

Posted Feb 13 2012 3:56pm

I’ve been reading some of my Yahoo posts and, quite frankly, I’m a little embarrassed. There’s no narrative arc, the text is peppered with anemic jokes and everything is spoon fed to the reader. Part of that was due to contractual demands but, as the writer, I still am ultimately responsible for delivering quality content. I often failed at that mission.

That said, I did find a post that, while not necessarily what I liked to do here at ShrinkTalk, does have some useful information on healthy eating from a psychological standpoint. I thought the tips below were obvious to most, but after receiving a significant number of questions and comments about them, I realize now that I assumed too much. So, take a look. I hope it helps you:

As part of two surgical weight loss teams, I’ve been fortunate to work with various experts in the fields of nutrition and healthy eating. But while there has a been a colossal increase in the medical issues related to eating and losing weight, not nearly as much has been paid to the psychology of eating. That said, we do know certain important, guiding principles that allow us to have a healthy relationship with food. This, in turn, often leads to weight loss, better nutrition and improved overall health.

Mindful Eating

This is the hot topic in weight loss, for a reason. Never forget that there is a delay between the time it takes to consume your food and your brain’s ability to recognize satiety. In other words, you’re able to take in much more food than your body needs before your mind even realizes it. This is why so many doctors, dieticians and other health experts are emphasizing eating “mindfully.” In many ways, this simply means slowing down and chewing your food very thoroughly. More importantly, however, mindful eating means focusing on your meal. Savor the flavors and textures. Treat eating as a complete experience, not simply a way to pour nutrients and fuel into the body.

Americans are notorious for eating as a secondary activity. We do it while we talk, watch television, read the newspaper/book/articles on the internet, not paying close attention to what and how much we are consuming. This behavior must be curbed to have a better relationship with food. In fact, I often tell my clients who struggle with weight to sometimes eat alone, doing absolutely nothing except eat with long pauses in between bites. And when they mindfully eat, with a focus on taste, texture and proper chewing, everything slows down. This helps the body take in only what it truly needs as opposed to what we think it does.

Food Logs

For one week, keep track of everything you eat. But, more importantly, note why you are eating it. If you’re like most of us, you’ll probably have good reasons for eating (e.g., hungry, needing certain nutrients) as well as bad ones (e.g., bored, anxious, celebrating, depressed, stressed out). Emotional eating is a colossal problem and most of us are unaware of both when we do it and what emotions cause it. Identify the patterns so you know your risk factors. And before you say “I already know my risk factors,” heed this warning: over 95% of people I’ve asked about their completed food log acknowledged that they recorded something on there that surprised them. Do not assume, do the research on yourself.

Know That Your Mind Plays Tricks on You

Research has shown that when people have more food in front of them, they’ll eat it. This isn’t surprising, but consider this research finding: when people are tricked into eating from a bowl of soup that never empties, they not only continue to eat, but believe that they are simply eating slowly and enjoying the food. They don’t notice that they are simply consuming more and more as the bowl is rigged to fill up from the bottom. People believe that they just eat more slowly than other people, which is why their bowl doesn’t empty. This is where the cliché, “our eyes are bigger than our stomachs” comes into play. Humans are visually stimulated when it comes to food, and this is why the outdated parenting technique of getting children to eat everything on their plate is a horrible one. Eat only until satisfied and never based on visual cues.

So if you know your mind can mess with you, fight back. Use small plates so your portions don’t appear too small. Put your knife and fork down between bites as a cue to accurately assess how much you’ve eaten, and drink plenty of water throughout your meals. It not only helps you to feel full more quickly, but helps the brain play catch up during the delay between consumption and satiety.

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