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Last month I introduced the concept of mindful eating and how this method can help individuals to reach health goals and optimal well-being. It takes practice to eat intuitively. Hopefully readers have had a chance to try out a few of the strategies for slowing down their eating speed and paying closer attention to food and the overall experience of eating.
Here are some additional suggestions for incorporating mindfulness into the eating experience.
• Experiment by choosing one meal to leave some food on your plate and sit at the table. See what emotions you feel. Are you sad, disappointed, anxious or guilty? What are you feeling? Do these feelings contribute to a second helping? Allow yourself to feel these emotions even if it is uncomfortable.
Think of strategies to help you overcome these feelings if they are negative. Rationalize that if you don't get seconds the food will be there for a delicious leftover meal tomorrow and will taste better when you are truly physically hungry.
• If you find it challenging to stop eating a particular meal or dish, experiment with a "stop" activity. Others have had success with these strategies: Brushing their teeth after eating; chewing gum; drinking hot tea or cold seltzer, engaging their mind and/or body in a nonfood activity such as knitting, crossword puzzles, stretching, a walk, or calling a friend. It is helpful to remove one's self from the kitchen area before engaging in the activity.
• The next time you find your mind turns to food try to determine what emotions or event caused you to think about eating.
Is it because you are lonely or bored? Is it because someone criticized you or made you feel sad or guilty about something? Does this emotion typically cause you to turn to food for comfort? Do you think about food when feeling this emotion because it is uncomfortable to deal with what actually caused you to feel this way?
Think of solutions or strategies to help you begin dealing with these emotions. If bored, make a list of non-food activities that might help to get your mind off of food such as a craft project or practicing yoga.
If someone else caused the negative feelings, decide if talking it out would be helpful. Or, perhaps, journaling might be useful.
Begin to experiment with the strategies that will help you reduce eating from emotions or eating when you are not truly physically hungry. Keep an open mind and stay curious.
If you decide to eat, reach for whole foods first such as fruit, vegetables and hummus, or low-fat cheese. Before eating, picture how one of these nutrient-rich foods will make you feel compared to candy or chips. Nutrient-poor foods give you energy for only 20 to 30 minutes and then leave you feeling tired and craving more sweets or salt.
You are in control of your own food choices - food does not control you. When you eat, base your choices on how hungry you are, what you desire (sweet, salty, savory, smooth, crunchy, hot or cold), what your body needs and what will feel good in your stomach immediately and 30 minutes later.
You are now on your way to eating with both attention and intention. If you practice mindful eating and living you will reap the benefits of this wonderful approach just as I have done and continue to do.
KATIE JEFFREY IS CERTIFIED AS A SPECIALIST IN SPORTS DIETETICS AND IS OWNER OF FITNUTRITION LLC, IN STONINGTON.