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Mindful Eating

You’re at café with an old friend for lunch. The conversation is so engrossing that when you look down at your plate – empty except for a few crumbs – you wonder “Where did my soup and sandwich go?” Or you watched TV all night long and don’t recall eating that bowl of popcorn - did it even taste good going down? What about when you were at that meeting at work and helped yourself to the doughnuts, but you didn’t enjoy them because of all the stress around the table. These are all examples of mindless eating. Thanksgiving is almost here, and it’s probably the holiday most associated with overeating. In honor of this holiday, I would like to introduce mindful eating.

Mindful eating is a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is being fully present, in the moment, without judgment. Mindfulness allows us to truly live in, notice, and even enjoy the present moment. Mindful eating is an extension of this, bringing our awareness back to ourselves, to the act of eating, moment by moment. Mindful eating is intuitive. It is about re-learning how to eat using our internal cues such as hunger and desire as opposed to external ones. We ask ourselves “Am I hungry for food or hungry for something else? What does my body really want to eat?”

Lynn Rossy, PhD, is a researcher and expert on mindful eating. She has created the “BASICS,” a useful set of guidelines we can use for ideas and inspiration in eating more mindfully.

B. Breathe and Belly check. Take three to five deep, long breaths. Inhale, pause, and exhale fully after each breath. This signals the body to relax. Relaxation helps your body’s digestive system work optimally. Check in with your belly. Are you hungry for food, or hungry for something else? Sometimes we eat out of boredom, loneliness, habit, or just because it’s there. Consider that you might be thirsty instead of hungry. Gurgling or gnawing sensations in the stomach can indicate hunger. [Note: Many people experience anxiety in their gut. Try to differentiate between hunger and anxiety.] If you are hungry, does your body want a snack or a full meal? This step is about pausing to check in with yourself to find out what your body really wants.

A. Assess. Take a moment to assess your food. If you can, hold it in your hand. Say, an apple, or a French fry. What impression does this food give you? Is it appealing to you, or maybe not so much? It might be smooth or rough in your hand, warm or cold, colorful or dull, heavy or light, greasy or not greasy. Are you drawn to this food? Again, you are pausing to assess whether this food really appeals to you or not.

S. Slow down. Slowing down allows us more time to truly enjoy the experience of eating food. It also makes it easier to assess when we are actually full. It takes about twenty minutes from the time we start eating to register fullness. If we eat too quickly, we risk overeating. Chronic overeating can interfere with satiety signals from the stomach as well as lead to weight gain, not to mention the discomfort of being overfull.

I. Investigate. Keep checking in with yourself and notice how your are (or not) still enjoying your food. Does it taste as good as it did ten minutes ago? Maybe it’s not as good as you first thought it was; mindful eating has ruined junk food for many people. Check in halfway through your meal. How full are you? Give yourself permission to not “clean up your plate.” It is perfectly okay to put away the rest for later. Remember your body is not a trashcan or a compost pile.

C. Chew. Chewing food thoroughly helps us slow down, enjoy our food, and register fullness more easily. Chewing thoroughly also increases digestion and absorption of nutrients from our food, giving us “more bang for our buck.”

S. Savor. Savor your food. Bring all of your attention to your senses as you eat your food: sight, touch, smell, taste. taste. Let it all in. This should be a pleasurable experience! If you allow yourself to savor this food, but realize that it’s just not happening, then you may come to the conclusion – even if this is a food you have been eating for years - that this is not a food that serves you. Sometimes it takes mindful eating to truly learn this.

Last, as you sit at your Thanksgiving table, take a moment to think about where your food came from. Give thanks and gratitude to all of the forces that made this meal possible: the sun, the rain, the soil, the animals, and all of the hardworking farmers who make it possible for us to eat. Happy Thanksgiving.

The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.

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