Practice Mindful Eating: Change your Relationship with Food!
So you say you want to eat healthier, feel better, and have more energy.
Perhaps, you want to cut out the pizza and eat some kale instead.
This is easier said than done.
You’ve probably tried sugar-free diets, week long juice detoxes, and low carbohydrate meal plans but nothing seems to stick. Why aren’t these changes sustainable? Sure, you’ve got the drive and desire to make healthy lifestyle changes, but you’re wondering how to make these changes permanent.
The answer is learning mindful eating.
There are many nutrition services available to you, such as calorie counting apps and specialized meal planners, that focus on the nutritional content of food. Becoming educated on the nutritional value of food is important but it’s only half the battle. You will always fail to implement these changes if you do not learn how to eat. Let me introduce to you the concept of Mindful Eating, a practice that is consistently overlooked but essential to your success. Mindful eating simply means being present for the experience of eating while letting go of any judgement and anxiety we might have. This approach is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. When you become more aware of your moods and thoughts surrounding food, you will find it easier to control your actions, and dare I say it, become satisfied with much less food.
So let’s rediscover the joyfulness of eating without the guilt. I recently picked up the book, Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink. This book not only suggests brilliant strategies to reengineer food habits, but supports their strategies based on studies conducted in their own labs! Below I summarize a few his strategies.
The food industry wants you to eat more
Most of us are blissfully unaware that we are being tricked into eating more. T
hink you’re too smart to fall for these tricks? Our emotional connection with food is of interest to nutritionists like myself, but it’s also of interest to the food industry, and the food industry doesn’t care about your health. According to Brian Wansink, we make over 200 food choices today and all of these food choices are influenced by packaging, branding, colors, lighting and smells. I’m going to give you the tools to counteract the trickery!
The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on
If you eat 30 extra calories per day for a year, you will gain 3 pounds over the course of a year. 30 extra calories doesn’t seem like much but it adds up. Those 30 extra calories may come in the form of 2 sticks of gum and that extra teaspoon of dressing in your salad. This small margin in calories, that make the difference between gaining or losing those few pounds, is called the mindless margin. The good news about using the mindless margin to our advantage is that you do not have to completely avoid your favorite foods. Here’s the idea:
- If you eat 100 less calories per day for 1 year, you will lose 10 pounds.
- If you eat 50 less calories per day for 1 year, you will 5 pounds.
Yes, it’s that simple. No starvation diet. No low calorie diet plan.
How do you accomplish eating less calories without realizing it?
Swap out2–3 foods for slightly lower calorie, healthier foods. For example, switch from half and half coffee creamer to almond milk. Use oil and vinegar instead of blue cheese dressing. Eat a granola bar instead of that oatmeal cookie. Forget the croutons in your salad- add a vegetable instead. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Because it is! Consuming just a few calories less a day can help you reach your target weight.
We eat until they’re full, instead of eating until we’re not hungry
This line sufficiently describes the way Americans eat. We usually eat until we’re uncomfortably full, unwilling to wait until our satiety mechanism kicks in. How does satiety work? Well, we don’t exactly know but it has something to do with how much time you spend eating, and how much you chew and taste each bite. You could take the time to chew each forkful 20–30 times, put your utensil down, and decide if you had enough but this task is almost impossible.
Have you heard the saying, “we eat with our eyes, not our stomach”? We have the tendency to keep eating until our plate is clean or the chip bag is finished. We rarely listen to our stomachs. That is why, before you even take a bite, you should decide exactly how much food to consume during that meal. Put everything you’re going to eat on one plate. Do not go up for seconds or thirds. This is where we tend to get in trouble. Whn we consume additional helpings we lose track of how much we eat. This tip comes in handy when we’re snacking- put your snack on a plate and leave the snack package in the kitchen. If you want to keep track of how much you’re eating, do not clear the empty plate, keep it in front of you. This strategy will surely deter you from consuming 4 bowls of ice cream!
Here is a great challenge: Next time you sit down for a meal, eat blindfolded. Make the effort to recognize the phases of satiety: I’m starving, I’m getting full, I’m stuffed. This way, you’ll be more aware of these signals when you sit down to eat a large meal that might get you in trouble!
Create a lack of variety of food, on purpose
You might think that the reason why diets work is due to the calories deprivation. This is only half of the reason. Diets work partially due to the limited variety of foods you’re allowed to consume. While on a diet, you get tired of eating the same foods every day, so you eat less. After all, the first bite of food is always the best but after a few bites your taste buds become desensitized. You might not care to eat 3 helpings of mashed potatoes.
On the other hand, when you have a variety of foods to choose from you end up eating more. With each bite of a new food, your taste buds become excited. Let’s look at a common example: A Chinese buffet offers endless treys of mouthwatering food. You can’t just try the General Tso’s chicken. You want the Kung Pow Chicken, the Sesame Chicken and the Sweet and Sour Chicken as well. So you pile a small portion of each of them on your plate. Surprise, surprise! You end up eating triple the amount of chicken you would regularly eat. This is the temptation of variety.
The solution is exactly what you think: simplify your meals. Your meals should only consist of 2 or 3 food items. For example, roasted yams, wild rice and sautéed shiitake mushrooms. When you do go to that Chinese buffet, don’t fill up your plate with 5 or 6 food items. Start with 2. If you’re still hungry go up for a second helping. Brilliant!
Rewrite your meal routine
Eating meals with your family and friends is generally a pleasant experience. You gossip, you laugh, you argue over politics. In the excitement of the conversation, you lose track of how much you consume. When you’re enjoying a meal, you tend to spend more time eating than you would normally spend eating alone. Be extra careful in these situations because before you know it your belt is bursting at its seems. This is why we must rescript our meals.
- Don’t be the first to dig in. Be the last person to start eating.
- Be the slowest eater at the table. Pace yourself according to the amount of food that is on your company’s plates.
- Always leave a small portion of food on your plate. This is way you won’t give in to the temptation of seconds.
- Before you start the meal, eye the amount of food you’re planning to consume. Don’t wait until the end of the meal to decide you’ve had enough.
As I write this post, I sit in my favorite coffee shop, hurriedly chomping down on my deliciously irresistible raw cashews. I will probably eat more cashews than I should. Mindlessly binging on food serves as an escape from reality, but we have to be able to catch ourselves. If you practice these mindful eating strategies you won’t have to remind yourself to eat less or chew slowly. These strategies will become second nature to you. The bottom line is that we need to learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Once you implement mindful eating strategies into your daily routine, you will gain the freedom to decide how much food and what type of food you should be eating.
Pour your beverage into a tall, thin glass, rather than a short, wide glass. A tall glass provides the vertical illusion of more liquid!
Use smaller plates, bowls and utensils- because the food fills the bowl more sufficiently, your meal will look much larger and more satisfying!
The see-food trap. If a candy dish is sitting in front of you at work, it will take extra strength to resist the candy. Move the candy dish to a place that is not in your line of vision. Out of sight, out of mind.
Want more mindful tips? Contact Iraina