Begin the New Year Eating Mindfully
Happy New Year to all our dear patients, families, and friends! Never before have so many people looked forward to starting a new year with such anticipation! I’m sure when we look back at 2020- we will always recall the moments of pain, suffering, and loss which were experienced by so many people. However- I also hope that we will be able to recall those moments that showed our inner strength and resilience as individuals, communities, and a nation. And most importantly I pray that we have learned from this trying year and can all resolve to strive for better health as well as a renewed spirit of cooperation and concern for each other!
Last January I wrote about Healthy Resolutions to begin the New Year. While I encourage you all to review that blog on our website, this month I want to focus on one resolution that is always in the top one or two on everyone’s yearly list of resolutions -and how to take a different perspective on it as we begin 2021.
Eating better or losing weight is a common theme as many of us enter 2021. Perhaps even more so this year as many packed on the “Covid 20 Plus” last year due to self-quarantining, unhealthy eating, less exercise, and more stress. In fact, U.S News and World Reports states that 71%, of New Year’s resolutions revolve around weight loss, however 80% of New Year’s resolutions such as this one fail by the second week of February. So this year-I want to encourage us to focus less on the goals of eating less calories and losing weight but instead focus on the importance of eating properly.
Like most of us, you’ve probably eaten something in the past few hours. And, like many of us, you may not be able to recall everything you ate, let alone the sensation of eating it. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, but more than half the time, we’re doing something else, too. Because we’re working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we’re not fully aware of what we’re eating. And this mindless eating—a lack of awareness of the food we’re consuming—may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic that we are facing, as well as many other of our own health issues. So instead- let’s begin to focus on “Mindful Eating”. Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. The tenets of mindfulness can be applied to mindful eating as well. Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating. This concept of mindful eating goes beyond us as individuals. It also encompasses how what we eat affects the world, considering sustainability of food crops as well.
So here are five simple guidelines to bring our bodies and minds back together:
1) Let your body catch up to your brain– Slowing down when we eat is one of the best ways we can get our mind and body to communicate what we really need for nutrition. It actually takes the body about 20 minutes for the brain to send a signal to our stomach to say that we are full which is why we often unconsciously overeat when we eat quickly. But, if we slow down, we can give our body a chance to catch up to our brain and hear the signals to eat the right amount. Simple ways to slow down might just include following many of our grandmother’s manners: like sitting down to eat, chewing each bite 25 times (or more), setting your fork down between bites, and all those old manners that are maybe not as pointless as they seemed.
2) Know your body’s personal hunger signals- When we eat- are we responding to an emotional want or responding to our body’s actual needs? Many of us fall into the habit of emotional eating which is the act of eating in response to certain emotions like stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness or even just boredom. External eating instead occurs when we eat in response to environmental or food-related cues, such as the sight or smell of food. Unhealthy eating behaviors like these are the most commonly reported behavioral problems in people with obesity. Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is actually listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger. Is our stomach growling, energy low, or feeling a little lightheaded? Mindful eating gives us the skills we need to deal with these impulses. It puts us in charge of our responses instead of at the whim of our instinct.
3) Cultivate a mindful kitchen- Another way that we eat mindlessly is by wandering around looking through cabinets, eating at random times and places, and multitasking while we eat by working, watching TV or playing with our cell phones. Eating like this prevents us from developing healthy environmental cues about what and how much to eat, and wires our brains for new cues for eating that are not always ideal. So to remedy this- it means sitting down (at a table!), putting food on a plate or bowl, not eating it out of the container, and using utensils not our hands. It also means eliminating distractions by turning off the TV and putting down our phone! It also helps to eat with others because not only are you sharing and getting some healthy connection, but you also slow down and can enjoy the food and conversation more, and we take our cues from our dinner partner, not overeating out of emotion.
4) Connect more deeply with your food- With the explosion of fast food and restaurants; we have all become ever more disconnected from our food in recent years. Many of us don’t even consider where a meal comes from beyond the supermarket packaging. This is a loss, because eating offers an incredible opportunity to connect us more deeply to the natural world, the elements and to each other.
When we pause to consider all of the people involved in the meal that has arrived on your plate, from the people who prepared it, to those who stocked the shelves, to those who planted and harvested the raw ingredients, to those who supported them, it is hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected. Being mindful also means reflecting on the cultural traditions that brought us this food, the recipes shared from family and friend that were handed down in the family. When we begin to consider everything that went into the meal, it becomes easier to experience and express gratitude to all of the people who gave their time and effort and the elements of our world that contributed to creating this meal. With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health in our food, not just for us but for the whole planet.
5. Be Present with your food– Take time to truly savor and taste your food. Use your senses! Before eating take note of the look, smell and overall appeal of the meal you are about to eat. During the meal identify components of the food you taste. What is the flavor? What can you smell? How does it feel in your mouth? Finally- ask yourself how you feel about the food you are eating. Do you feel happiness, pleasure, regret, guilt, stress, disappointment? Ask yourself what thoughts the food brings to mind. Does it bring up any memories, fears or beliefs? Before and after the meal ask yourself how your body feels. Do you feel energized, lethargic? Does your stomach feel full, nauseous, empty? By being consciously aware of the food we are eating- we will stay focused on the moment and be more aware.
I encourage you and anyone who has made a resolution this New Year to lose weight, or eat better to consciously focus on these five guidelines for the next 30 days. I promise you that they will not only help you attain your goal better, but you will enjoy your food and the experience to a much greater degree. Best wishes from all of us for a Healthy and Happy New Year!!