Mindfulness has made headlines this year for being the latest and greatest habit for well-being. If we can just slow down, stop multi-tasking, and focus on one thing at a time, our health as a society will improve as we naturally reduce stress and distraction, eat less, and sleep better. I’m a fan of mindfulness; every time I am intentional about incorporating more mindful living into my day, I am calmer, less distracted, and less stressed.
I also check a lot fewer tasks off of my to-do list. Being mindful all day long can seem like a luxury that our busy lives don’t have time for, regardless of the science proving its value. I’m working on shortening my to-do list so I can slow my roll and be more mindful. I’m okay with that being a work in progress, with one exception: mindful eating.
Mindful eating is the concept of paying attention to your hunger signals to avoid going overboard and reaching that uncomfortable level of fullness. By eating small, moderate, undistracted meals throughout the day and obeying our body’s signs of fullness, we reap the rewards of better digestion, more satisfaction and enjoyment out of our meals, and natural portion control without deprivation. Simple, right?
Of course, simple does not always mean easy. When is the last time you had a meal without distractions? When is the last time that you stopped eating when you were full, even with a plate of delicious food in front of you? How do we bridge the gap between what we know we should do and actually doing it? Food is delicious, and for many of us, the concept of simply putting down the fork and being okay with it is easier said than done. If your appetite overrides your brain at the table, try some of these tips.
Begin with the end in mind, and anticipate how you will feel emotionally when you realize you are full physically. Pay attention the next time you realize you are full mid-way through a meal, and name that emotion: are you content? Disappointed? Ambivalent? Resentful that you prepared a meal for which you are no longer hungry? Being prepared to feel this way can ease the discomfort. Then, create a response for that feeling. Imagine saying, “I thought I might encounter this; time to move on and come back when I am hungry again.” If that sounds ridiculous, think of what would sound better to you.
This calm acknowledgement reassures your brain that it’s not in an emergency, and that the food is not going away. It’s just on pause. In a society where we can drive to a grocery store at 2:00 am and buy just about anything we want, eating is not a limited time offer. Yes, it’s annoying to face a plate of food and not be able to eat it. I’ve been there. It’s also annoying to stand in a closet full of clothes that don’t fit because we went ahead and ate it anyway. I’ve been there, too, and I don’t want to go back.
When we face the reality of our calorie needs, and what will happen if we consistently live beyond them, mindful eating becomes a strategy for partnering with our bodies to protect them from the misery of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and uncomfortable jeans.
So now we get to the big question: what do we do instead of eat? Be prepared ahead of time with something to do when you realize you are full. Sort through the mail, fold laundry, give the kids a bath, write a thank-you note, just get out of the environment and occupy your mind. When that plate is still tormenting you and you can’t stop thinking about it, throw it out. In your neighbor’s garbage can. If you’re really stuck, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will get through it together!
Eating feels good, but balanced living feels better. Be there for yourself now; the food will be there later.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!