So often, we eat mindlessly. We shovel food into our mouths while working, at the computer, on our phones, watching TV, or on the go. For this year's National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics selected the theme "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right." Research shows that mindful eating can benefit those with cardiovascular disease, depression, chronic pain, and cancer, as well as help people decrease stress levels and increase their quality of life.1 Here are some tips for mindful eating.
Take the time to sit down and savor your food—your health will thank you. When you slow down, you are more likely to recognize when you're full. It takes your brain roughly 20 minutes to register the signal from your stomach that you've eaten enough. Digestion begins in the mouth with the breaking down of carbohydrates (thanks to salivary amylase) and mastication (chewing). Chewing slower and longer improves digestion by adequately preparing food for further breakdown in the stomach. If you're a chronic fast eater or need help getting started, try eating with your non-dominant hand, using chopsticks, or setting down the fork in between bites.
Whether you're eating alone or having a family meal, make mealtime an electronic-free zone. There are enough distractions in our day-to-day lives without bringing phones, TV, etc., to the dining table, particularly given that distractions can lead to mindless overeating.
Eat like you're a judge on Chopped
From the moment you sit down, look at the plate presentation and notice the array of shapes and colors in your meal. How does it smell? Seventy to seventy-five percent of what we "taste" actually comes from our sense of smell. As you start to eat, pay attention to the different textures: the crunch of fresh fruits and vegetables, the softness of mashed potatoes, the smoothness of scallops. Lastly, how does it taste? You may notice flavors you might have normally missed, such as the spiciness of fresh arugula or the sweetness of roasted root vegetables.
Dish out less
The difference between gaining or losing ten pounds in a year is roughly 200 calories per day, which could be as little as an extra yogurt or glass of wine. Brian Wansink, PhD author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, repeatedly demonstrates that we are prone to eating more from larger containers, even when it's five-day old popcorn! Restaurants bank on this. Remember how Starbucks use to offer the "short" cup at 8 ounces? Now, the smallest cup you can order is a "tall;" at 12 ounces, it's nearly twice the size of what was once considered a regular sized cup of coffee. Next time you're out, order a smaller size than usual and see if you really miss the difference (odds are, you won't). His team also found our brains struggle with perception – which black circle is bigger?
Even if you've seen this before, and intellectually you know that they are the same size, the circle on the left still looks bigger. Apply this at home by using a salad plate for your meal instead of a dinner plate. Lastly, when loading your plate up, think 20 percent less for meat and carbohydrates (including starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn) and 20 percent more or even half the plate with fruits and vegetables.
Food is Our Friend
"Savoring the Flavor" of each bite can help us appreciate food in a more wholesome and holistic way: the pleasures it provides, the social experiences it enables, and, of course, the nutrition it provides for our bodies and our lives. For more tips on how to enhance your National Nutrition Month—and your healthy lifestyle all year long—visit http://www.eatright.org/resources/national-nutrition-month for a wealth of fresh tips, tools, and ideas.
- Praissman S. Mindfulness-based stress reduction; a literature review and clinician's guide. J AM Acad Nurse Pract. 2008;20(4):212-216.