By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD Date: 1/28/10
We talk a lot about mindful eating on this blog because it’s a concept that resonates with a lot of the health professionals and nutrition communicators here at the IFIC office. However, we recognize that mindful eating can be a hard thing to get your head around if you are not working in the food, nutrition, and health world 24/7 or have strong interest in these matters.
How Mindful Eating Works
Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab has done research showing that the average person makes over 200 decisions about food everyday. That might sound like a big number, but when you breakdown all of the small decisions that are centered on eating one meal, you can begin to see how all these food decisions add up. These decisions can include things like this:
? I wake up in the morning, brush my teeth, wash my face, watch the morning news and think to myself, “am I hungry?”-1st decision.
o Answer: Yes!
? Okay, so I think to myself, “how hungry am I?”-2nd decision.
o Answer: sort of hungry.
? Now, I’m off the couch and in the kitchen staring at the food that is available for me to eat, and I start thinking, “how much work do I want to put in to making this meal?”-3rd decision.
o Answer: Its breakfast, not much.
? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it gives me energy. I have a lot of things to that will require mental focus and energy throughout the day so I think to myself, “I need healthful food to eat!”-4th decision.
Okay, I’m a dietitian so that last one probably isn’t something that most folks think about, but that’s the point of mindful eating-to tap in to these small decisions and find ways to make eating and physical activity a healthy easy thing to fit in to your lifestyle.
A “Mindless Eating” Case-in-point
You are at the movie theatre on a Friday night date and you’ve just finished a nice dinner out. As you enter the theater lobby you see and smell the popcorn, and because you always have popcorn when you go to the movies, you mindlessly head over to the counter and buy some popcorn. In the theatre under dark lights, hugging your main squeeze, and distracted by the latest blockbuster, you end up eating the whole bag of popcorn.
Hopefully this illustrated how easy it is to eat more than you need to when you aren’t thinking about these small food decisions.
Tips to Becoming a “Mindful Eater”
Becoming mindful eater takes time and is not something that happens overnight. Here are a few things that you can do to help yourself become more aware of the food decisions that you make throughout the day.
? Slow down the pace of your eating. An easy way to do this is by putting your fork or spoon down in between bites or take time to have a conversation with the people that you are eating with.
? Sit at a table when you eat your meals. When you eat in front of a distraction (like a movie or a television set) you can end up eating more than you need to because you are not aware of just how much you are eating.
? Become aware of your hunger cues. I don’t know about you, but when my tummy growls I know its time to eat! The key is to be mindful about how much I should eat at each meal. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with one being starving and ten being stuffed like Turkey on Thanksgiving) you should be eating when you are between a four and eight. You never want to be too far to any extreme. Eating when you are starving can cause you to make less than ideal decisions about how much and what type of food to eat. On the flip side, if you eat when you are stuffed, than you probably don’t need the extra food.
? Taste is king, when deciding what to eat, but you’d be surprised how often people eat food that doesn’t taste good. I love warm, soft, and buttery chocolate chip cookies, but not every chocolate chip cookie tastes that way. I can often tell just by looking at a cookie if it’s going to live up to my ideal. If it’s not going to be a contender for Cookie of the Month, than it may not be worth the calories to eat it.
? Engaging all of the senses when you eat. If you find yourself wanting to hold your nose to eat something, it may be better to find something else to eat.
? Use a food journal to keep track of how you’re eating effects your mood. This can help you become aware of the times that you eat out of boredom, depression, or for other emotional reasons that you may not be aware of.
These are just a few things that you can do to become a mindful eater. Are you already doing some of these things in an effort to manage or lose weight, tell us about it!