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You Are How You Eat

Eating healthy is something we all know we should do. But, if you’re like me, you wish you were able to more often. We know generally the kinds of foods we should eat more of and the others we should avoid. With the many tools and programs available these days that promise to help us eat healthier; it can be an overwhelming topic to talk about. Not to worry, you’re in good hands here. The only thing you need to worry about at this moment is making sure you’re comfortable. Grab a refreshment or a snack, and hopefully, together, we can learn something new about the ways we can gain greater awareness of how we experience food. Hope you came hungry, ‘cause we’re about to serve up an all-you-can-eat buffet of Mindful Eating.


Diets tend to, well… suck. Sometimes though, diets are put in place to correct a nutritional imbalance or because another disease requires us to alter our eating habits -- like diabetes. These types of alterations to one’s diet are often necessary and something that should be discussed and monitored by your health care provider. A wonderful thing about Mindful Eating is that it is something all of us can try, even for those of us on prescribed diets. It’s a process-oriented behavior, opposed to the outcome-driven diets we are all used to that have specific weight and calorie goals attached to them. This means we are focusing on the steps along the way, not just the finish line at the end.


With a more mindful approach, it is common to find your choice is often to eat less, savor more, and select foods that align with the goals you are aiming for. As with learning any new task, it can be difficult to know exactly how to implement change, especially if the routine you’re attempting to alter has gone unchanged for years or even decades.


To help us out, here are some easier to implement habits to become a more mindful eater:


Don’t watch tv -- When your attention is invested in whatever program happens to be on, that awareness is pulled away from how full you feel. More importantly that the very taste of what you are eating can be diminished when your attention is turned to what’s on the television, and away from how you actually feel in the moment. You could end up eating more ice cream than you intended and enjoying it less.


Serve your plate with correct portions -- Our perception of what is an appropriate serving size is skewed. According to an article by the American Heart Association, “Adults today consume 300 more calories than they did back in 1985.” An example seen almost every day are the larger meal portions in restaurants which alters our concept of what an appropriate portion size is when cooking at home. If eating at a restaurant where you don’t control the portions try putting half of your meal into a to-go box before you start to eat. For those interested, here is a Food Group Gallery from the USDA which has the recommended portion sizes for common foods in each category.


Chew 32 times before swallowing -- Not sure if anyone else recalls the moment in an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, where Mr. Rogers talked about time. To teach us how long a minute is he sat there in silence for one whole minute. I remember afterwards it felt much longer than a minute, because of being present and mindful for the 60 second duration. For anyone reading this who typically inhales their food (an old habit I am still working to break from when work demanded I eat quickly), this tip is a great way to curb that habit and allow you to really enjoy what you’re eating. Counting to 32 isn’t for everyone, I get that. An alternative could be setting down your silverware in between bites. A large part of mindful eating is giving yourself time to savor your food and taste each bite the whole time you are chewing. Anything to help pace yourself during a meal and break away from the habit of eating so quickly is what we are after here. Feel free to implement your own tactics and, if you’re so inclined, please share any techniques you find helpful.

My own experience with Mindful Eating has shown me that the more consistently you adhere to these tips the clearer it becomes. Intention is the mindset with which one begins this practice -- What do you value? How will awareness of the moment serve you? Simply pondering these questions is enough to begin a shift towards mindfulness. If weight loss means living a fuller life, that's fine. Just don’t lose sight of being more present and involved in your life as you navigate the various health goals you have set. Mindful Eating is about bringing full awareness to each bite of food. It begins with your first thought about what you are about to eat and ends with your final bite being swallowed. Before you automatically reach for something to eat, stop and take a moment to consider what you are feeling. What caused this urge to eat, was it hunger, or another feeling? Are you feeling stressed, bored, sad, or perhaps a bit lonely? If you recognize that your urge stems from something other than hunger, do something unrelated to eating to calm it. If you determine however that you are physically hungry, take a moment before your meal to consider how your food got there. What had to happen to bring what you are about to eat in front of you? An exercise that helps me is to think about the nameless and faceless individuals involved in the process. I’ll imagine the manual labor, the hours, the sunlight, and the soil that went into each item on my plate. In doing this I find myself smiling quietly to myself, as I count to 32, a most heart-felt thank you to those unknown individuals. A bite with intention behind it becomes a gift all its own.


At Integrative Care Services, we provide resources to help our client’s find enjoyment in life again. We do our best to share topics that help our clients and other readers take a preventative approach with regards to their health. As we mentioned in the opening of the article, Mindful Eating is a process-oriented practice. Before we let you go, there is one more tip we'd like to impart to you. We want to encourage you to check in with your body after each bite to simply see how you’re feeling. Is the hunger better, the same, worse? Do you need more or is it time to stop? Ask these questions and know that whatever the answer is, it is ok. The point is to ask the question and honor the answer. Eating right can be challenging. Most of us weren’t raised with the most optimal eating habits. Even for those of us that were, aging and other health issues can make eating more complicated than it should have to be. Hopefully, there are parts of Mindful Eating that resonate with you, and if there is something you learned here that inspires and encourages you to evolve your eating habits share this with a friend or loved one who might be interested in being more mindful themselves.


Hunger shouldn’t be something you feel you need to fix, it's the opportunity for an experience. Experiencing your hunger in this more mindful way can make the act of eating that much more enjoyable. Hopefully these feelings of joy ripple outward and touch all the other parts of your life.

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