Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes — How to Improve your Eating Habits
On the count of three, let’s all take a deep breath. Ready? 1…2…3…. inhale and 1…2…3… exhale! Didn’t that feel great? That same feeling is the ideal way to feel when you eat.
Welcome back to another edition of Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes. Today’s topic is mindful eating- or using mindfulness to reach full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that helps you recognize and cope with your emotions and physical sensations. Mindful eating can help you distinguish between physical and emotional hunger, which can support efforts to lose weight if deemed necessary and reduce disordered eating behaviors such as overeating and binge eating.
Fundamentally, mindful eating involves:
- Eating slowly and chewing foods thoroughly
- Limit distractions such as smartphones, the TV, computers, and tablets
- Listening to physical hunger cues (such as a growling stomach) and eat only until you’re full
- Distinguishing between physical hunger and non-hunger triggers that influences eating. Non-hunger triggers can include social situations, stress, and any emotional state that affects our eating habits, such as being anxious or depressed.
- Using our senses to notice colors, smells, flavors, textures, and sounds
- Noticing how food effects our mood and body
- Choosing to eat nutritious foods that help maintain our health and overall wellbeing.
- Appreciating your food
These methods allow you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious, health-promoting responses.
Why should you practice mindful eating?
Eating has become a mindless act with the endless number of distractions coming from the TV, smartphones, tablets, and computers. It takes time for your brain to register that you’re full. If you eat too fast or mindlessly while you’re distracted, the fullness signal may not arrive until you have already eaten too much. Eating mindfully can restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.
Recognizing your physical hunger and fullness cues can help you differentiate emotional and true physical hunger. This helps to bring awareness to triggers that make you want to eat, even though you’re not necessarily hungry. Knowing these triggers allows you to create a response, giving you the opportunity to choose how you react.
Mindful eating has been proven to aid in a variety of unhealthy eating behaviors such as:
- Emotional eating, or the act of eating in response to certain emotions.
- External eating occurs when you eat in response to environmental, food-related cues, such as the sight or smell of food or social situations that influence eating.
A person may not experience true feelings of physical hunger such as a growling stomach, fatigue, trouble concentrating, shakiness, headache, and lightheadedness when provoked by emotional or external cues to eat. Unhealthy eating behaviors like these are some of the most common behavioral problems in people with obesity. In turn, mindful eating can assist in weight loss as it changes eating behaviors, prevents overeating, and reduces stress associated with eating.
How to get started:
- Eat slowly. Try to avoid rushing your meals.
- Take a pause after each bite and chew your food thoroughly.
- Eliminate distractions (for example, turn off the TV and put down your phone).
- Focus on how your food makes you feel.
- Stop eating when you feel full.
- Ask yourself why you’re eating, whether you’re truly hungry, and whether the food you chose is nutritious before eating.
When beginning, it’s a good idea to pick one meal per day to focus on mindful eating. Once you feel stronger in your ability to practice, it will become more natural. Then you can implement these methods during more meals.
If you have any questions or if there are any nutrition-related topics that you would like me to discuss here on Nutrition Notes, please reach out at LGardner@EPH.org.