Eating means more than providing nutrients and calories. We eat for many other reasons: we eat to celebrate, out of boredom, out of habit, and out of stress.
“Mindless eating” – chronic dieting, overeating or undereating, feelings of guilt, obsession or feeling unable to control emotions about food – is a behavior that can lead not only to bad eating habits, but also an unhe althy relationship with food.
Conscious eating means having a he althy relationship with food. It means being aware of nutritional needs, but also appreciating food, being flexible with diet, accepting your body and yourself without being judgmental.
It also means being aware of the things that influence our relationship with food and the things that cause us to mindlessly eat, and finding strategies that promote enjoyment of eating and adopting a diet that provides nutrients and peace of mind.
Conscious eating was the topic of a presentation to a packed house atWomen's College Hospital. Registered Dietitians Kinga Balogh, Nancy Bradshaw of Women's College Hospital, and Hanna Sheehan, intern, focused the discussion on the principles presented in Craving Change, a program designed to help people change their eating habits by thinking about the biological, psychological and that influence what we eat.
The Craving Change program doesn't just look at what we eat; it explains the reasons why we eat. Naturally, we eat to fuel our bodies, but we also eat for physical, emotional and social reasons. At the Women's College Hospital workshop, Ms. Sheehan described three types of hunger: stomach hunger, mouth hunger, and heart hunger.
- Stomach hunger is physical. Our body tells us it needs energy.
- Mouth hunger is more about craving. It usually targets a particular taste or texture, such as a craving for something s alty or crunchy potato chips.
- Heart hunger is the urge to eat for emotional reasons, or because of a learned behavior, such as eating for comfort after a hard day. Hunger of the heart is what can drive us the most to mindlessly feed ourselves.
Among the strategies that help promote mindfulness while eating, we must takeself-care, thinking about triggers and finding ways to avoid them, using tools for setting goals and keeping a journal.
To avoid eating for comfort, think about situations in which you feel bad, such as stressful situations at work or bad news. Think of ways to comfort yourself other than through food. Some immediate options are to listen to a favorite song, call friends, or do stretching or yoga exercises. If you have time, consider taking a walk in the park, watching a TV show or movie that makes you laugh, taking a bath, or cozying up with a good book to read.
Keeping a food diary is a great way to be fully aware of what you eat and why you eat. Ms. Balogh said many of her customers find the journal has really opened their eyes and increased their level of attention to food choices.
The diary can include everything you eat, or it can focus on problematic situations such as lunch or after-dinner snacks. Don't just log what you ate – track situations, foods, and feelings in detail. For example, indicate the time of day and the situation, ie coffee break in the middle of the morning, television in the evening. Take note of how you felt beforeeat and what you choose to eat. Finally, write down your feelings immediately after eating and how you felt 20 or 30 minutes after.
This should help identify “triggers” – why and when you tend to make certain food choices – and how you feel immediately after your choice, and after the initial effects of craving have passed.
You can avoid some triggers by having a plan to work around them. If you can identify situations or times of the day that present risks, try to deal with them by planning to be busy at that time, or by making it easier for you to choose a He althy eating. If the break room at work is always full of snacks you'd like to avoid, try going out for a walk.
Using a grocery list when you go shopping can help, as can planning meals and snacks at the start of the week. Ms. Balogh suggested organizing your fridge and shelves so he althy foods are close at hand and easy to grab (ready-to-eat washed fruits and sliced vegetables, low-fat yogurt), and treats are far away. and harder to find.
When faced with a state of need, try to hold yourself back for a while. Tell yourself it's OK to eat the food, but you're going to wait a minute first. AOnce the minute has passed, you can choose to take action, remembering that you controlled your craving for a minute, or you can decide to wait another minute.
By holding back, you can increase a sense of control over your eating habits, avoid feelings of deprivation or guilt, and find out how long it takes for the craving to pass.
Do you have a full stomach?
Remember that once full, it takes about 20 minutes for this information to reach the brain. Ms. Balogh suggested using preset portions and a timer to remind yourself of how long it takes for your brain to know you're full. Serve yourself a meal or snack in the appropriate portion, and set the timer for 20 minutes. If you want more food, tell yourself that you will wait 20 minutes before deciding to eat more food.
Make your own goals a priority, and try to identify situations where more assertiveness on your part will help you have better control over your eating habits. For example, refusing treats at the office, or sharing a bag of popcorn at the movies, or adding an extra portion of fries to your dish at the restaurant.
Managing stress and controlling negative thoughts can also promote mindful eating. Ms Bradshaw recommended relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, tai chi, exerciseand yoga. She also talked about positive thinking. This technique involves consciously making a list of positive things about yourself, such as things you do well and things you are proud of. When negative thoughts arise, pull out the list for a reality check.
Finally, it is important to remember that mindful eating is not about eliminating treats. The idea of all or nothing about food, such as adopting an austere diet, leads to failure. A good way to balance nutrition and indulgence is to follow the 80/20 rule: make he althy food choices 80 percent of the time, and choose treats 20 percent of the time. For example, if there are 21 meals in a week, choose he althy options 16 times and enjoy less he althy options five times.