How to Be a Mindful EaterTuesday, November 24, 2009
Are you always in a hurry when it comes to food? Do you eat too fast - trouble making your meal last? Do you multi-task while you eat - driving, reading or computer surfing? Is your dinner consumed on the couch, while catching your favorite TV show? Do you think you are really tasting and enjoying your food?
Research by Brian Wasink Ph.D., at Cornell University, author of “Mindless Eating,” indicates that we consume up to 500 calories a day, mindlessly. We would not need to diet if we re-engineered our approach to eating, and saved those calories by learning to enjoy every bite of food, and therefore be satisfied with less.
The Center for Mindful Eating offers the concept that mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to food, non-judgementally. With practice, you can learn to be aware of your physical hunger, differentiate it from emotional or stress hunger, and eat until you are satisfied having allowed your senses to enjoy the eating experience.
How to be a “Mindful Eater”
1. Slow down, you eat too fast - gotta make the mealtime last! Eating quickly does not let you really taste each bite, nor does it give your digestive system time to process the food and make you feel satisfied. So, you go back for seconds, or learn that you need larger portions to start with. Here are some ideas to slow down your speed of eating:
a. Eat at a table for meals and snacks. Make eating an enjoyable special event. Put down a tablemat, eat off a plate, and eat with others. Make the plate attractive - good looking food in enjoyable!
b. Sit down when you eat! Do you walk around the kitchen nibbling while you fix a meal? Do you eat lying down? (Yes, people do this!)
c. When eating, only eat. Watching television, driving, and working only distract you from the chance to really enjoy the food and feel satisfied.
d. Choose foods that you eat with utensils. Hand-held foods, like sandwiches and pizza, go down fast.
e. Put the fork, or the food, down between each bite. Use “slow down foods” - take a sip of water between bites, add a side salad to dinner, and add sliced fruit or carrots when eating a sandwich. Put the sandwich down to grab a carrot.
f. Cut the food into smaller pieces - seems like more!
g. Watch the clock! Have you ever timed how fast you eat a meal? Check the clock and work to extend the time to 20 minutes.
h. Here is a fun trick - eat with the other hand! The act of eating feels different, and you just are not quite as adept at eating fast.
i. Slow your eating speed to match the others at the table (if you can find someone else slower).
j. Be aware of how you look while you eat!
k. If you are served a heaping amount of food, divide each item on the plate in half and slowly enjoy the first half. You might find this was enough, and the rest can be saved for a later meal.
2. Be in touch with your hunger. Do you eat “by the clock,” or automatically finish all the food on your plate? Does the food in television commercials trigger a trip to the kitchen? Does a big bowl of ice cream soothe you after a stressful day? Are you an unconscious eater? By slowing down, you can sense your hunger being satisfied, and stop eating before you feel too full. But what about before you eat? When you think about eating, or are triggered to grab a bite, stop to check in with your body - “Am I really hungry?” If you are not very hungry (you just ate a meal an hour ago), why do you want food now?
Develop an “Intuitive Eating” style.
We eat for four reasons: hunger (stomach), appetite or pleasure (mouth), habits, and emotions. If you could confine eating for only hunger, and not because you are bored, or you saw that luscious burger commercial on television, or you like the candy the reception keeps on her desk, perhaps your food intake will be closer to your calorie needs and your weight would be normal.
Do you really know what it feels like to be hungry? Think about it - does your stomach growl, do you feel irritable, have a headache? Do you notice your hunger before you reach for food? Do you notice your fullness as you come to the end of the plate?
On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being ravenous and 10 being stuffed like on Thanksgiving, think of 5 as neutral - not hungry or full. As your stomach digests food and empties, your hunger level will move down from 5, to 4, and then 3 means “I am ready to eat now!” If you do not eat, you might find you are a 2 or a 1 in a short while. If you are overly hungry - you will over eat. If you withhold food and cause yourself to be too hungry, you will eventually make up for it by overeating.
Once you do eat, you move up the scale through 4, 5, 6, and then 7 - which means satisfied and the hunger has gone. If you are eating slowly and tasting and enjoying the food, you will notice this fullness happening. At this point, you probably should stop eating, even if there is more food on the plate. Finishing the plate will cause you to feel 8 or even 9, which becomes uncomfortable.
Ever notice that a little while after you stop eating you feel even fuller? Digestives juices pour into your stomach and expand your stomach even more. Ugh! If you manage your hunger by being conscious of your hunger level, you more likely will be successful in managing your weight.
Do not set yourself up to starve and binge. When you want to eat, check your hunger level. If you are not really hungry and you are thinking about food, there may be other non-hunger reasons. Smelling a favorite food, watching a food commercial, or having a bad day, can all trigger reaching for food. If you can pause and check your hunger, you can be more aware of the non-hunger issues that drive you to eat when you know you are not hungry. This technique of hunger awareness has a profound influence on how and why you eat. Add this to your weight loss and exercise program, and you will eventually change your relationship with food.
Reviewed by Clara Schneider MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN - 05/13