Now that we’re in the midst of full-on holiday celebrations which include buffets of all the foods you can’t resist, combined with the stress of increased socializing, present-buying, and family get-togethers, I’m guessing you aren’t paying that much attention to how much you’re eating, what you’re eating, or whether you are chewing each mouthful 50 times…In fact, you may even be using food to manage the anxiety surrounding the holidays and telling yourself you’ll deal with the extra weight in the New Year (read this to learn why this is a bad idea).
I’m not expecting you to be pious with your healthy eating right now- that wouldn’t be realistic. I’m simply inviting you to consider using a very pleasant and simple tool to help you eat more mindfully this holiday season and see where it takes you. Ideally, you will eliminate the ritual come January 1 of harshly chastising yourself for your food choices during the festivities and then putting yourself on the all-too-common “New Year’s Resolution Diet”.
The idea here is to pay more attention during this busy and stressful time to our experience of eating and if possible, to eliminate some of the distractions which lead us to overeat on the foods which don’t serve our bodies in the best way possible. During busy times, it’s even easier to become distracted from our eating experience because we have so much to do in such little time and we end up multitasking- even when it comes to meal consumption.
Who among us doesn’t “multitask” on a daily basis; especially while we are eating? I have noticed that in our North American culture, the preparation and consuming of food seems to be little more than an inconvenience in our stressed-out, busy lives. I, myself, have become particularly adept at eating while driving, which not only takes the joy out of a meal, but also is very dangerous. I liken it to talking on a cell phone while driving- a very bad habit.
How many of you eat while also doing the following?
- Watching television?
- Working at your job?
- Having an argument?
- Sitting at the computer?
- Talking on the phone?
You’re not alone! Here are some statistics:
- North American adults spend an average of 1 hour and 12 minutes per day eating, yet they spend between 2½-3 hours per day watching television.
- 66% of Americans report regularly eating dinner in front of the television.
Why should you eat mindfully?
You will eat less and get out of the habit of overeating.
Americans have been gaining weight for quite some time. The most recent National Center for Health Statistics report found that 32% of all U.S. adults are obese according to the government’s Body Mass Index (BMI) classification system. By contrast, just 23% of adults were classified as obese in government surveys taken from 1988 through 1994. Government surveys also find that the increase in weight is in part related to an increase in calorie and dietary intake. In short, people are eating more.
- If the mind is focused on more than one task while eating, critical signs that regulate food intake may not be received by the brain. If the brain fails to receive important messages such as the sensation of taste and satisfaction, it may not register the event as “eating”. When this happens, your brain continues to send out hunger signals, increasing your risk of overeating.
- You will drastically improve your digestive health: Recent research has found that when our mind is distracted during a meal, the digestive process may be 30-40% less effective.
For homework, I want you to practice eating without distractions. To help you achieve this, here are my “top 10” strategies for mindful eating:
- Only eat while sitting.
- Set a place for yourself at the table with a placemat, cutlery, napkin, and a glass for a beverage.
- Eat away from your work area- in a lunchroom, restaurant, or outside.
- Eat with chopsticks- it will automatically slow you down.
- Take a few deep breaths before you eat to calm and center yourself.
- Chew each bite at least 30 times before swallowing
- Give thanks for your meal and appreciate that you have food to eat.
- If you are eating with others, avoid upsetting conversation over meals and instead, practice eating quietly and mindfully with the other person.
- Turn off the phone at all mealtimes so you won’t be interrupted.
- Eat at the same time every day for each of your three meals and make sure it takes you a minimum of 20 minutes to eat a meal.