Previously, we reviewed the 7 kinds of hunger, which are described in more detail in Jan Chozen Bays’ book, “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food”. You may recall these include: eye, nose, mouth, cellular, stomach, heart and mind hungers. When we practice mindful eating, we focus on which type of hunger(s) is/are involved, and assess the extent of each type. This, like most healthy habits, requires regular practice. Although it is straight-forward in theory, putting the principles of mindful eating into regular practice is no easy task.
Practicing mindful eating is especially challenging in our modern daily routines which are characterized by high-efficiency, high-tech, multi-tasking. Add multi-tasking to our current obesogenic environment, and you have a recipe for disaster - unhealthy, mindless eating, which often leads to overeating, and weight gain.
What is an obesogenic environment? This term refers to an environment which promotes weight gain and obesity. Dr. Arya Sharma, the director of the Canadian Obesity Network describes our obesogenic environment on his blog “Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes”. Our Western society is laden with low-cost, highly processed, palatable foods, which are available everywhere we turn, and usually served in individual portion sizes suitable for feeding two to three people. If we are served a portion or container of food, research shows that we usually empty the container (‘clean our plates’), and we are more likely to do this if we are distracted by multi-tasking, or if eating with a group of people.
Brian Wansink, from Cornell University, has conducted numerous experiments demonstrating our tendency to eat mindlessly, and he provides an excellent summary ofs his work in the book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.” You can also find some insightful and entertaining clips of Brian on YouTube and on his website MindlessEating.org.
So, how do we avoid mindless eating? There are a few steps we can all take to help us eat mindfully:
Do a mini-hunger assessment when it is ‘time’ to eat, Rate your level of hunger on a scale from 1-10, and determine if you are truly “stomach” hungry or you have another type of hunger i.e. eye, nose, mouth, cellular or mind. You might realize you are more thirsty than hungry! This can help you determine whether and how much you want to eat.
Reduce distractions and avoid eating while doing other tasks (turn off the TV, your laptop, smart phones, close books, etc.).
If time permits, bring awareness to the food you are about to eat.;Think about its origin, feel gratitude for your meal, and notice the flavour, aroma, and texture as you chew and swallow. Re-assess your level of hunger after a few bites, to decide whether you need to eat more.
Serve your food on smaller plates, bowls, cups, etc. if portion size is a concern for you. Studies have shown that the size of dishes and cups has increased significantly during the past several decades. Keeping in mind our natural tendency to ‘clean our plate’, if we eat off of smaller dishware, we tend to eat less.
Consider sharing an entrée and appetizer with your dining partner when eating out. In many cases, this is plenty of food. If not, you can always order more. However, chances are if you eat it mindfully, you may realize you are satisfied with less food.
Make a conscious decision to avoid buying the ‘jumbo size’ of unhealthy foods. Although the ‘better deal’ appeals to many of us; if we buy the ‘club size’, we are bound to consume more.
Check out www.tcme.org to get more information, or contact dietitian Coleen Nolan for info on mindful eating programs being offered in the Halifax area:
Coleen Nolan, MSc, RD, CYI is a Halifax-based registered dietitian and yoga teacher.