Are you eating mindlessly?
Obesity is a rapidly increasing problem in the United States (US) and worldwide. 2011 data reveal an unprecedented number of obese and overweight persons live in the US, with approximately 68% of the population affected by this chronic health issue. Obesity affects every organ system and is a disease associated with significant morbidity and mortality as well as reduction in quality of life. Our children are also facing similar health problems. Somehow we must regain control and break this cycle.
Availability of food, especially processed foods is part of the problem associated with overweight and obesity. The convenience of prepared (processed) foods, the fast food industry, and the hectic lifestyle many of us lead can amplify the problem. Over-busy stressful lives can contribute to mindless eating.
What is mindless eating? Most of us don’t overeat because we are physically hungry. We overeat because of situations. Family and friends, packaging, names and numbers, labels and lights, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, all contribute to the choices of what we eat, when, and how much.
Studies show that the average person makes around 250 decisions about food every day – breakfast or no breakfast? Donut or bagel? Part of it or all of it? At home or grab and go? Yet out of these 200+ food decisions, most we cannot really explain. So the question is how can we take back control? How do we become more mindful?
The following are tips, when practiced that will promote awareness when it comes to eating. Mindful practice can help break the cycle of routine eating habits that may contribute to over-eating, poor choices, and resulting overweight or obesity. Mindfulness may actually allow you to enjoy what you eat.
1. Shift out of “autopilot”. Many people eat semi-consciously, swallowing without really tasting.
2. Take mindful bites. Put your utensils down between bites. Notice the aromas of the food. Bring your senses to the meal. Focus on the flavor.
3. Attentive Eating. When you have a meal or snack give it your full attention. Don’t try to multi-task. Turn of the TV, the phone, the computer. Focus on your food.
4. Mindfully check In. Think about how hungry, physically hungry you are. Make sure you are not eating out of boredom. When you eat be sure to stop when you are no longer hunger- rather than feeling full.
5. Know your food. Where did it come from? Who grew it? How did it get to your table? Plant a vegetable garden or go to the local farmers market. If you connect with your food you may gain an appreciation for it. Become a mindful shopper.
6. Pay attention to the flavor. Noticing the details of our food can help us become more mindful. Noting the crunch, the spice, the layers of flavor can enhance the food experience and allow us to be more satisfied.
7. Use a Tracking Device. With the age of technology nutrition and weight loss apps are readily available for our mobile devices. My Fitness Pal, Lose It, and Fitbit are just a few examples of apps and devices that allow us to become more aware.
8. Mindful Eating Support. Make it a group effort. Involve your children, spouse, and friends. If you need help seek out a local dietitian or healthcare professional with background in weight management.
Eating mindfully is a simple commitment to appreciating and acknowledging the food we need to fuel our bodies. The focus is on how you eat. Why you eat. It can be practiced anywhere. It can help you regain control of food in your life and it can help promote healthy eating habits for you and those you love. Eat mindfully and enjoy!
Laurie McGinley joined Western Bariatric Institute (WBI) in 2005. She has a passion for her work, and is nationally certified in both Bariatrics and Adult Health. Laurie is the Past President of National Association of Bariatric Nurses and is has her Doctorate of Nursing Practice from the University of Nevada, Reno.