Resolutions come and go, but creating lasting, sustainable change takes determination, effort and a desire to see results. Let’s skip the New Year, new you propaganda and just focus on understanding the theory behind mindfulness as it relates to nutrition, and see how easy implementing mindfulness into your daily life can be with six simple guidelines to follow.
When it comes to eating, why is it that we, as a society, relinquish control or do not act consciously when making food choices?
The fast food culture of today has conditioned many of us. Having a busy agenda is only an excuse. Reaching for pre-packaged, processed goods or racing through the drive-thru at some greasy burger joint has caused our waistlines to bulge. This constant rush to go-go-go or multi-task while sitting down in front of a computer forces individuals to gobble down their food, and this creates a habit of mindless eating that often results in overeating.1
According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., “Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”2 Wansink also attributes the rising rate of obesity to availability, affordability and attractiveness.
I would agree with his analysis, but there is more to it than just that. Of course, affordability plays a major role in our food choices. Across the board, income will dictate what options are feasible within the budget allotted, but it is not an excuse. Taking into account budget, it becomes a matter of choosing colorfully packaged, well-marketed processed items versus nutritious vegetables and whole grains.
Mindfulness, as it relates to food, works like this. It is not only being aware of what you put on the plate, but the act of eating and the experience around dining that envelopes mindful eating and can help create smart habits that turn into a healthy lifestyle. These six tips serve to help you get started being more mindful when it comes to food choices and taking the time to enjoy dining.
Quality & Variety
Shopping for the week can be cumbersome at first, but get a picture of what wholesome vegetables and whole grains are versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes. Fruits and vegetables in all shapes and colors should stock your shopping cart, adding in whole grains and proteins. Try to limit pre-processed, packaged foods.
It takes time, yes, but if you cannot understand the ingredients on the package, it may not be wise to consume it. In addition to the ingredients section, which is very important, take a look at portion size. Dietary guidelines and nutritional recommendations set forth by the US Department of Agriculture are established to promote the health and well-being of all Americans. Food labels are regulated and should be adhered to. When you get home from shopping, prepare individual servings for snacks and if you are planning a family meal, measure the correct portion to accommodate the members in your family. If you are planning for left overs, set the extra portion aside before heading to the dinner table.
Mind Your Servings
The old proverb, “less is more” is appropriate here. When it comes time to plate your meal, start with less. Once you have eaten one portion, evaluate how full you are, and if you are comfortable. Though it has become habitual to gorge ourselves past our hunger level, let’s try to rein this in. It will not be easy. Start with smaller portions, eat slowly, use a smaller serving utensil if it helps, and be conscious when your hunger pains diminish.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
When we get bored we eat. If food is in front of us, we unconsciously reach for it. If we have a whole bag of chips we constantly go back for more.
Limit your access. Don’t buy high fat or sugary snacks because you know you will just eat them in mass if they are on hand. Make positive, forward-thinking decisions. Breaking habits takes time, but if you can condition yourself to only have healthy options in the cupboards, you will not be tempted to overindulge.
Set Aside Time
Running the kids to school, shuffling from back-to-back meetings, multi-tasking -- running yourself ragged is not being mindful. Setting aside time to just eat and nothing else is precious, and it can be done. You and only you have to decide what is best. When you take out the distractions, you can fully focus on mindful eating, chewing your bites fully, drinking enough water and recognizing when you feel full. This acute awareness will be a result from taking the time to close the door or schedule your lunch period as an important part of your day.
Keep a Food Journal
This is not something you have to do all the time, but at first it helps to hold yourself accountable and can be used as a reference tool. A good food journal should outline everything you consume whether that be for one day or for a week. Write down what you eat and drink, and don’t forget to include refills, sauces and dressings. Document how often you eat, where you eat and how you feel after every meal. This will help understand food rituals and habits that either work for you or those that should be scrapped for other healthy ways of eating.
I would be a hypocrite to say that indulgences, such as dessert or a glass of wine once in a while, should be eliminated from your diet, but look at these little treats as rituals. Notice those experiences that you get happiness, pleasure, and stability from often provide routine and control. Enjoy these morsels of goodness and elongate the experience noticing the flavor, texture, color and smell. I am a glutton for scones accompanied by a cortado, a simple espresso with a splash of warm milk. This is one of my rituals, and I savor it. I typically make it a point to go to a coffee shop, to sit with the wafting aroma of roasted coffee beans, patrons sitting all around reading their papers or caught up in conversation. The barista behind the counter adds his own chorus to the ensemble. The whole experience is comforting, it brings back memories, and it gives me a sense of fulfillment and gratification.
Our relationship with food will better help guide us into living a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.
1. Ross, Irene. July, 31, 2013. Rituals and Mindful Eating Can Help You Control Your Weight. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-ross/mindful-eating_b_3677236.html
2. October 5, 2016. Using Mindfulness to Stop Overeating. American Heart Association. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Using-Mindfulness-to-Stop-Overeating_UCM_462515_Article.jsp#.WHAnF1MrLIV