Mindful eating for optimal health; March is National Nutrition Month

by Jill Fleming and Brandy Strub, Registered Dietitians, Veterans Memorial Hospital

In today’s fast-paced society, with people eating on the run and not planning ahead, eating has become a mindless act. Distractions have shifted our attention away from the actual act of eating towards televisions, computers and smart-phones. This can be problematic, since it takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realize you’re full.

When we are dividing our attention, we usually eat faster and often overeat. If you eat too fast, the fullness signal may not arrive until you have already eaten too much. This is one of the contributing factors to our obesity crisis today.

Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your environment and eating habits.  Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues while eating. Using mindful eating has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating and can help you feel healthier.

Mindful eating includes the following guidelines:
• Eating slowly and without distractions
• Listening to physical hunger and satiety cues
• Distinguishing between true hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating (emotions)
• Engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures and flavors
• Eating for good health and well-being
• Gratitude or appreciation for your food.

You may want to try mindful eating if you tend to eat too fast or would like to lose some weight. It is well known that restrictive dieting does not work long-term, with almost 90% of dieters regaining their lost weight. The vast majority of studies agree that mindful eating does help you lose weight by changing your eating behavior and reducing stress.

By changing the way you think about food, any negative feelings that may be associated with eating are replaced with awareness, better self-control and positive emotions. When unwanted eating behaviors are addressed, instead of just the foods being eaten, your long-term health improvement goals can be permanent.

Mindful eating has also been found to be an effective treatment for those who tend to eat in relation to emotions or external cues. Emotional eating may include eating due to boredom, frustration, anger, loneliness  or stress.  External eating cues may include the time on a clock, the sight or smell of food, or a social gathering where you eat regardless of true hunger.

To practice mindful eating, start by sitting down for all meals, without any distractions. This means that you will only focus on the meal, not a television, telephone or book. Have gratitude for the food on your plate and then eat slowly, chewing thoroughly.

Eating in silence will help you notice how the food makes you feel. You will also be able to tune-in to your internal hunger and satiety cures. Ask yourself why you’re eating, whether you’re truly hungry and whether the food you are eating is healthy. You want to stop eating once you feel satisfied, not full or uncomfortable.

You may initially want to start with just one meal per day to begin more mindful eating. It does take practice, so be patient with yourself.  Mindful eating is a powerful tool to help you regain control of your eating and to achieve optimal health.

For more information, contact the dietitians, Jill Fleming or Brandy Strub, at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411.