When you think about a typical day of eating, what’s your headspace like? Are you constantly thinking about other things
while eating? Maybe you’re having a “deskfast” in your office while checking morning work emails or perhaps you’re having a working lunch trying to scramble to finish a project assigned from your boss while shoving last night’s leftovers in your mouth.
For me, I’m all of the above, but I’m also one to drift into the thoughts of my to-do list for work the next day while eating my dinner that took forever to cook.
When our MIND IS FULL of thoughts that are focused on things other than our food and current environment, it’s hard to be MINDFUL in our eating. At this point, you may be asking yourself, “what is mindful eating?”
Mindful eating is an eating experience in which we utilize all our senses during our meal or snack. It allows us to take time with our food, fully observing how our body’s senses are reacting to our meal, whether it’s feeling hungry, satisfied, tired, or stressed out. In mindful eating we are “fully present” during our eating experience, without the distraction of a television or other interruption in order to truly savor our food in a non-judgmental way. This experience allows us to be fully aware of our eating experience and the amount that will satisfy us versus “mindless munching.”
When we’re able to engage in mindful eating, we often find ourselves surprised to be satisfied with smaller portions than usual. We’ve allowed our taste buds to really take in that richness from the ice cream we’re eating or recognize the various spices in the dinner we just made. Normal life distractions of a busy work life or stress in general can keep us from engaging in mindful eating.
Unfortunately we live in a society that is fast-paced and encourages eating while completing other tasks. We are taught by the diet industry to choose food based on diets, diagrams, or convenience versus tapping into our internal senses and cues of what our body is actually craving at the time.
It may feel impossible at first to engage in mindful eating when we have a jam packed schedule.
I often challenge my patients to consider picking just one meal out of their day to practice mindful eating and gauge if they feel different during their eating experience. This could include feeling less stressed out, being more satisfied from the meal or snack they’ve eaten, or realize they don’t need as big of a portion of a particular food because they were able to really savor what they’ve eaten and are satisfied on a smaller portion.
Another tip I often give to my clients as they initially engage in mindful and intuitive eating practices includes honoring their hunger and fullness cues. Don’t wait too long when you’re hungry. If we wait until we are overly hungry or ravenous, we end up choosing a food out of convenience and eating it very rapidly. Consequently, we will likely not stop eating until we are stuffed. When we address hunger in its beginning stages, it allows us to choose a food based on our cravings versus convenience.
I think we can all admit that food is such a wonderful vehicle for nourishment, celebration, and social activity.
As you continue to mold your long-term lifestyle changes through this Scale Back Alabama experience, I’d love for you to consider taking a stab at mindful eating. You may find yourself realizing that you’ve been in a pattern of eating when you’re not truly hungry or perhaps in a pattern of waiting too long to eat only to find yourself rushing through a meal out of “hangry” necessity.
The great thing about mindful eating is that it doesn’t necessarily involve changing the foods you’re eating, affecting your budget, or forcing you to cook more often. Instead, mindful eating is a thoughtful, deliberate approach to enjoying food for both nourishment and pleasure. It can help us to get more satisfaction from the foods we eat.
And I mean, who doesn’t want more satisfaction?!
Sheena Quizon Gregg, MS, RDN, LD
Celebrated by Unilever USA as one of its Agents of Change in the nutrition industry, Sheena Quizon Gregg, MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Assistant Director of the Department of Health Promotion & Wellness at The University of Alabama. Prior to working at UA, Gregg spent the beginnings of her career in the clinical setting working at DCH Regional Medical Center and Gadsden Regional Medical Center. Much of her outreach and clinical visits at The University of Alabama focus on eating disorders and helping patients re-establish a health relationship with food.
She currently serves as president of the Alabama Dietetic Association that represents registered dietitians across the state of Alabama. She has served as state Chair of the Alabama Obesity Task Force and as a 2015 Spokesperson for the statewide Scale Back Alabama program.
She has been quoted in USA Today College, Shape Magazine, and Women’s Health Magazine on the topics of fad diets, weight management, and eating disorders. She currently serves on the expert panel for BestFoodFacts.org.