By Chris Zinn
Criss Cross Applesauce
Something I like to talk about early on in my clients' nutrition programs is the concept of mindful eating. By mindful eating, I don't just mean trying to meditate as you eat a handful of chocolate chips, because those two things don't really work together (totally not speaking from experience here...).
No, mindful eating is something a little different than, well, being mindful and eating.
Let me explain.
Over the past 263 days, I have carved out 10 minutes a day to do some meditation. Now, clearly, I'm no Tibetan monk. However, I have learned a few things about mindfulness as it relates to food.
Meditation requires that you take some time to step away from work, family, watching TV, or whatever you're doing that's occupying your brain, and slow it down. Force your mind to relax, slow down, and become aware of your thoughts.
This, as I'm sure you have guessed, is not as easy as it sounds. I mean, have you ever tried to think about nothing? Kind of a paradox.
It takes practice to be able to think about nothing. Initially, you want to force it and you inevitably end up thinking about something or getting carried away on a tangent about some nonsense. Eventually, you learn to just let the thoughts come, notice what the thought is, and then let it go before coming back to the present.
Eating is a lot like meditating. The problem is, most people are not eating alone in a quiet room without any distractions. People eat with their families, in front of the TV watching HGTV, (sorry, not attacking anyone who loves to watch the property brothers!), at restaurants, sports events, etc. All of which makes it much harder to be aware of what you're eating.
The bottom line is that most of the time, people distract themselves while they eat, rather than practicing mindful eating. This can be one of the biggest downfalls when it comes to poor nutrition practices, and one of the biggest areas for improvement when we start to practice mindful eating.
So, with that in mind (no pun intended), let me get into what mindful eating actually is.
If you aren't all-in on the whole mindfulness thing, no worries. Shaving your head and wearing a robe - you know, like a Tibetan monk - is not a prerequisite for becoming a mindful eater. In fact, mindful eating is actually very simple.
In short, mindful eating is taking the time to appreciate the food you're eating, including its taste, texture, and smell. Slowing down your meal and taking time between bites, instead of rushing to finish and getting onto the next thing.
Why is this important?
Because regulating our hunger and satiety signals along with the mechanics of our digestion requires an intricate operation of our nervous, endocrine, and gastrointestinal systems. And, all of this has to occur while we have conflicting thoughts, emotions, and potentially distracting environments surrounding us.
You may have noticed this before, but your mind doesn't quite receive the "I'm full boss" message as soon as the digestion system sends it. So, we can learn to "hack" this system and use it to our advantage. This leaves you with two options:
You can eat faster to cram in as much food as you can before receiving the cue from your stomach that it's full. Or;
You can eat slower to let that message catch up to the stomach and feel fuller, sooner.
While probably not as popular as eating slowly, eating quickly can be useful in certain situations. For example, in the case of someone who has a small appetite but wishes to gain weight/muscle, eating quickly can be to their advantage. Eating quickly before their body can tell them they're full may help them stay in a caloric surplus and gain lean body mass.
But, most people aren't hoping to gain weight, so for the most part, eating slowly is the way to go. Doing so will allow you to eat less food and feel satisfied, which is a great practice when you're hoping to lose weight.
So how do we implement this? There are a few methods you can try.
Eat to 80%
Without being mindful of physiological hunger cues, or the amount of food you've eaten, you will most likely eat until your body says to stop. Sometimes you won't even be aware of this "stop eating" signal from your body if you are watching TV or engaged in conversation while you're out to dinner. The problem is, that "stop" point is most likely at least at the point when you are 100% full, if not more.
So you eat to about 100% fullness, great! Right on track!... right?
Well, after about 20-30 minutes, that 100% turns into 120% when your satiety signals catch up to your brain. In other words, what you thought was 100% really turned out to be much more! Now you feel full, heavy, and lethargic.
How do you combat this tendency toward overeating? Simple. Pay attention to your body's hunger and satiety signals while you eat. Take your time. Put your cutlery down in between bites, take some deep breaths and notice how full you feel. Once you get to about 80%, stop. You'll end up being 100% full, right where you want to be, shortly after your meal is over.
Practice Noticing Hunger and Fullness Cues
In order to know what 80% feels like, you have to know what 0% feels like, and what 50% feels like, and what 100% feels like. So, throughout the day practice being mindful, and noticing what you feel.
Haven't eaten yet today? How hungry are you?
Just ate? How hungry are you?
3 hours since a meal? How hungry are you?
Become aware of the spectrum of hunger that exists for you, and you will soon be more in-tune with what is too little food, what is too much, and what is the right amount.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg of mindful eating, but it's a great place to start. Managing distractions, eating slowly, and paying attention to your fullness cues will help you become more aware of how you feel before, during, and after your meals. This will allow you to understand more about when you need to eat, and how much you need when you do.
The ultimate goal is intuitive, sustainable eating habits, and mindful eating is a great way to get there.
Looking for help from a coach to reach your nutrition goals? Right now, we're gearing up to welcome a few new clients into a 3-month pre-holiday nutrition coaching program on September 1.
In this program, you'll build good eating habits, like mindful eating, and much more! You'll learn the skills you need to stay on track and even lose weight during the holidays, instead of needing to recoup your losses after the new year.
You'll receive one on one coaching from Chris to help you with your specific goals.
Contact us here to get all the details if you're interested in joining us for this program!