A Mindful Approach to Eating: Week 3
The Retreat at Ponte Vedra Beach is committed to helping individuals and families develop the tools for living every day more satisfied. We know that happiness is connected to finding a rhythm to life that makes sense and is sustainable.
Today, most people are focused on reducing or restricting their caloric intake in America. Americans are discontent with their health and their bodies. They eat on the go, eat food prepared by others, and they eat alone or while multitasking much more than they would like. Most importantly, they’ve become disconnected from the ingredients in their food. When we put these factors together, they have put their bodies at a disadvantage and taken away its ability to auto regulate.
If you are generally unsatisfied with your relationship with food and eating, then developing a broader appreciation for how your food was grown, harvested, processed and packaged may be the next step. Being aware of how the food came to your plate is important.
These things sound simple, and much of it is common sense, but there are good reasons we ignore our relationship with food.
Change is hard.
We are comfortable with our habits and anything new takes more time and energy, even when we are motivated. We settle into familiar patterns for which there are proven outcomes–we already know the results for how we have been living. Happy or not with those results, living with the status quo seems easier than taking a chance on something unknown. Experimenting with something new opens up the possibility of failure. We are very motivated to avoid feeling like we have failed.
This brings me to my next point.
There is so much information about how you should eat, what you should eat, and when you should eat that it’s difficult to know what’s really useful. The potential for your investment into a plan that is not effective gives short-lived results or leaves you with consequences to your overall health, which is a fear everyone has. People are tired of food trends and buying supplements that, as a nation, have not made us healthier and happier.
Diets that eliminate food groups or strictly reduce calories leave people feeling resentful, unsatisfied, and generally do not lead to long-term health outcomes. Additionally, it can be counterproductive to move towards a category of eating that is judgmental or judged as extreme by others.
Mindfulness is an approach to eating that moves beyond a “diet plan” and offers opportunity to recalibrate our appetite. Here is a summary of the tips from this series including two new ones for this week:
Try implementing the following tips this week:
1. Let your body guide your eating.
Hunger is an important cue. So is satiety. It takes your body about 20 minutes to feel full during a meal. If meal time is shorter, the signal will be missed and overeating will happen. When pressed for time, consider eating a replica (in size and content) of a healthful meal that fills you up and keeps you satisfied. Eating calorie dense foods quickly tricks your mind into thinking you need much more of it than you do. It may take some time for your stomach and your brain to start communicating effectively again, but it will happen if you keep up these tips.
2. Make mealtime a sensory experience.
Take time to really chew your food, breaking it down to a consistency where the flavor comes through. This is also great for digestion! Food that is appealing to the eye and smells appetizing sets the tone for a fulfilling meal. The texture, temperature, combinations of flavors are pieces of information that help you feel more satisfied with the food you are eating. The more senses used to take in the meal, the more meaningful it will be. We are less likely to eat too much and we are more likely to make wise choices.
3. Share your meal with someone, someone you like, if possible.
Good conversation, stimulating ideas, shared enjoyment makes food more memorable and meets your need for sustenance in ways that can’t come for food. Humans need connection: it fills us with positive emotions. Isolations is much more likely to lead to overeating.
4. Choose nutritionally rich food that are sustainable.
Eating a diet high in a variety of nutrients provides more energy, keeps away cravings, and supports health. There is a great deal of misinformation about where nutrients come from and how much we actually need. Dr. Fuhrman published a handy guide, “Nutritarian Handbook and ANDI Food Scoring Guide,” with rankings of the most nutritious foods. You guessed it, the most nutritious foods are all green! When available, buy local and seasonal food. It will taste better and drastically reduce the carbon footprint.
5. Eat and only eat at mealtimes.
Other than good conversation, try not to multitask during meals. When your attention is on something else, you are not registering what you eat. Your getting the gist of it now, this leads to eating more food, eating less well, and disconnects your mind from your gut.
6. Eat at specific, scheduled meal times.
Help your body get on a schedule to manage hunger and regulate your digestion. Setting aside a time to eat also sends you the message that nourishing yourself is a worthwhile effort. Putting sometime and some thought into preparation or presentation will pay off. When you create something, you cherish it. Your loved ones also get the message that you believe nourishing them is important. Not many more gestures help the parent-child relationship more than this one.
I cannot encourage this step more strongly as a physician and as a child-psychiatrist. If you are only able to implement one step, this is the one. This does not mean you must be a gourmet. Many semi-prepared options or even take out options are healthful and if served on plates, even paper plates, at the table, this will do the trick.
Theresa Randazzo-Burton, MD
Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist