Discover Mindful Eating

So when did it happen? Or has it always been that way? The fact that following a delicious meal, we rarely remember the flavors, aromas and senses stimulated by a flavorful meal. Instead we often feel overfull, possibly to the point of discomfort.

Sound like the aftermath of your holiday meal? You’re not alone.

This is likely due to “mindless” eating.” But what is “mindful” eating? It means using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions as to when to begin and end eating. When eating mindfully, we are fully present and savor every bite, engaging all our senses and truly appreciating the food.

To eat mindfully requires active participation. Psychologist Susan Albers, who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness, offered these eight ways to eat mindfully during the holidays:

  1. Take a complete tour of the buffet. The first three items in a buffet line are likely to make up 65 percent of your plate—just because you see them first. This leaves little room for things you may really want and makes a second helping more likely.
  2. Give yourself a hand. At holiday parties, eat with your non-dominant hand. This will help you slow down while eating your favorite holiday foods. Research indicates that this simple action can reduce caloric intake by 30 percent.
  3. Make a fist. New research called embodied cognition states that we can use the position of our bodies to help emphasize and shape what we think. When you want to turn down extra holiday treats, think “no” and make a fist. Making a fist is the action you make when you are refusing.
  4. Focus. Don’t multitask while you eat. Put aside the holiday to-do list and just focus on your eating! Turn off the TV and stop wrapping gifts.
  5. Mindfully delay. Keep your pocket full of sugar-free peppermints. Research indicates that peppermint can help to curb appetite. You can also use it to help pass time between a first and second helping. Make a deal with yourself. Don’t get a second helping until the peppermint dissolves completely in your mouth. You will find the craving for more will pass by the time it dissolves.
  6. Eat your favorite food last. A recent study in the journal Appetite suggests that you remember the last bit of food you eat the best. This prevents you from eating more later because the experience is still fresh in your mind.
  7. Take a brisk walk. No need to sweat or do intense cardio to avoid holiday overeating. A 2012 study in Appetite indicated that a brisk walk reduces chocolate intake for those who love chocolate. The good news? Walking can also reduce your cortisol level, which can ultimately prevent holiday comfort and stress eating.
  8. Sit down when you eat. A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people eat 5 percent more when they stand and eat. Standing causes a lot of distraction. Use the 5 S’s of mindful eating: sit down, savor, slowly chew, stay in the moment with a deep breath, and smile (the smile helps you to pause for a moment as you decide if you want another bite or not).

Employ these tactics for a more mindful eating experience—not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year.

Registered dietitian Barb Walsh is the community nutrition educator in the Tevis Center for Wellness.

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