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Food: Mindless or Mindful?

November 23, 2016

When you sit down for a meal, do you eat quickly? Are you distracted? Or do you concentrate on the food that you are eating?

Mindful eating is a practice being studied at several universities and centers across the country. With our busy, non-stop lifestyle, it is easy to eat quickly and forget to focus on the food. The mindfulness eating method advocates paying attention to the food we are eating, how we are eating it, and the tastes we are consuming.

For example, conventional knowledge says that it takes approximately 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that we are full. If you are eating your meal in 10 minutes and later experiencing that full, uncomfortable feeling, you are probably eating mindlessly. Instead, you may want to consider slowing down while you eat and engaging a mindful mentality about food.

How do you do that? First, sit down, take a bite of food, and really savor it. Think about the flavor, smell, and how you feel while you are eating the food. Does it make a difference? Most people will find that they actually enjoy the food more. You may find yourself feeling satisfied from the meal sooner. If you really savor that square of dark chocolate after dinner, maybe that is enough to keep your sweet tooth at bay.

Brian Wansink, professor at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, is a thought leader in the field of mindfulness eating research. He has researched everything from how the color of our plate to the order of food at a buffet line affects our eating habits. His team explores such mindfulness eating tricks as using a smaller plate for dinner to determine how this affects your intake. Is it just the act of cleaning our plates that makes us feel satisfied after a meal? It is interesting to observe and keep track of your own eating habits.

One of the easiest ways to track your dietary habits is through a food journal. Start by using the journal as a tool to recognize your habits that are mindless. Do not worry about counting calories. Simply write down what you had for breakfast, and then write down what you were doing while you were eating breakfast. Were you driving, were you working? Did you forget about breakfast altogether? Repeat for each meal, keeping track of how you felt that day, paying attention to the emotions you felt. All of these feelings play a role in our eating habits, and it is important to be aware of them.

It is also important to recognize how certain foods make our bodies feel. Think about your energy level after you had the combo meal for lunch at a fast food restaurant. Did you feel sluggish in the afternoon? We often are out of tune with our own bodies. Food is meant to be fuel, and you decide on the quality of that fuel. If you have a meal of fish, brown rice, and fresh vegetables, you may find yourself more energetic later on. Use your food journal to keep track of how your body is feeling that day, also.

Once your journal is robust, you will make discoveries that will help you begin to make smarter choices on foods. When you slow down and focus on food, you may also find that you don’t like certain foods as much as you thought you did. If you start eating the snacks in the break room at work, pause for a moment and think, am I eating this because I enjoy it or just because it is here? Spend your calorie budget wisely; there is no need to waste them on food you don’t enjoy!