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Practice mindful eating to make healthier choices

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When is the last time you ate a meal or even a snack without doing something else at the same time — driving, working, socializing and talking or using an electronic device?

It is estimated the average American spends a little over one hour eating each day. Quite often, we combine eating with other activities. Multitasking while eating means we may not be fully aware of what we are eating, how much we are eating or why we are eating. Mindless eating may lead to unhealthy eating practices and health issues such as obesity. So what do we do to change these eating routines and habits?

Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment. With mindful eating, you pay attention to your actual eating experience without judgment. Learning to eat mindfully may help you become aware of the reasons behind your hunger and/or eating (schedule/time restraints, social influences, emotions, etc.). While mindful eating habits may take time and effort to develop, the payoff can be priceless while emphasizing mind, body and spirit. There are behaviors you can practice to create mindful awareness and eating while learning what promotes personal health and vibrancy:

Practice meditation on a regular basis and relearn the skills that help you focus on the present. Meditation reinforces the importance of taking time away from busy schedules and routines to enjoy and appreciate the moment. Deep breathing is a key component to meditation practice.

Sit down to eat and enjoy your meal. Take a deep breath and reflect on why you are grateful by giving thanks, praying or saying grace. Prepare yourself to enjoy the moment and the eating experience without passing judement. Eating with others? Emphasize positive conversation to enrich the moment for all.

Eating at home and preparing your own food can enhance the eating experience and efforts to eat healthy. Take in the smells, the sights and even the sounds while cooking and eating! Experiment with a variety of foods and seasonings as well as meal presentations. Sound impossible? Start with simple meal preps and recipes you feel confident you can prepare successfully. Involve your family in the efforts.

Try removing TV and handheld electronics from the eating experience. This may be difficult, especially if you eat in front of the TV during most meals or if you frequently use your cellphone while eating. Being still and focused while eating helps you pay closer attention to food choices, food presentation and hunger signals and satiety.

Listening to your body becomes easier when we slow down and pay attention to the meal before us. Being tuned in to the signals our body sends us is an important part of developing body intelligence and controlling bodily outcomes. How does your body feel after a drinking a cup of coffee? And how does how you feel affect the decision to have a second cup? Do you eat uncontrollably? How do you feel after overeating? Paying attention to uncomfortable fullness feelings may lead you to eating slower and waiting before going back for seconds. As a result, you tune in to signals of feeling full and avoid overeating.

Rethink the diet mindset and focus on health, enjoyment and the positives of the eating experience. Focus on actions that will improve the way your body feels versus actions you feel will change the way your body looks. Recognize and appreciate your beauties from the inside out — we all are beautiful in our own way!

These are just a few tips to help you enhance mindfulness, especially mindful eating. Practice and develop a routine that works for you. As a result, you may see positives changes in your relationship with food and with your health.

Paula Furiness is an American College of Sports Medicine-certified clinical exercise physiologist and has worked in the health and wellness field for more than 30 years. Have questions? Contact her at paula.furiness@wilmed.org.

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