Here we are again. It’s that time of year when we feel the aftermath of our holiday overindulgence and panic sets in. When we try to detect our “tight abs,” we discover they are hidden by even more layers of fat. We scour the supermarket checkout stands for the newest, quick-fix diet. We sign up for gym memberships and fitness classes, with a nagging memory of how we typically drop out a month later.
There are effective solutions, however. Let’s make 2008 the year that we opt for a sustainable approach to healthy eating by connecting with our body before and while we eat. Let’s master portion control all year long.
When we eat mindlessly, we aren’t thinking about what or how much we consume. Rather, we unconsciously empty our plates of whatever is in front of us. Our mind and body are disconnected. We lose touch with the body sensations of eating and enjoying food. With the habit of mindless eating, we fail to recognize our body’s signals of satiety. Portions can spiral out of control without our awareness. This produces a disharmonious, relationship with food, rather than a nourishing one.
Unconscious eating can be linked with many factors: the dimensions of food packages, the wording of labels, the size of our plate, the lighting and our social environment, according to Cornell University’s researcher Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam Books, trade paperback, 2007, hardcover, 2006). Wansink’s brilliantly designed studies show that whatever we believe about our actions, the truth is that we guzzle more when we drink from a wide glass, eat a greater number of candies when the dish is on our desk instead of six feet away and, after an initial cringe, nibble away absently on stale popcorn. (See www.mindlesseating.org)
If we could eat a bucket of stale popcorn without noticing, we might as well enlist our intelligence as a health ally in the planning stages. Ensure that what’s close at hand to nibble on is a platter of colourful raw veggies, washed and pre-cut, or other good choices that fit our nutritional goals.
In 2008, we can overcome mindless eating by adopting a reverse approach: mindful eating. This ancient practice focuses on being proactive and making conscious food choices. We can once regain power and build a healthy relationship with food. There are many ways to practice mindful eating so choose ideas that feel right for you. Here are some tips.
• Explore why you are eating. Is it really for hunger?
• Visualize the portion that you are about to eat.
• Become aware of the amount you actually eat.
• Take time to eat slowly, breathe deeply and savour each bite.
• Listen for your body’s signals that you are full. They appear about 20 minutes after you begin to eat.
• Eat only until you are satisfied.
Start small; pick one meal each day to try mindful eating. If lunch is hectic at work, choose dinner at home when you can relax. Or start your day right by practicing at breakfast. Once you start enjoying the benefits of mindful eating, you can implement the concept of mindfulness while grocery shopping, cooking and exercising. The possibilities are limitless. All you need to do is slow down and take the time to enjoy!
For simple, nutritionally adequate menus, see Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, The Book Publishing Company, and The New Becoming Vegetarian (in Canada titled Becoming Vegetarian) by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis.
If you’re going to be conscious about what you consume, it makes sense to invest in top quality, organic produce from your local source of community supported agriculture.
Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author of nutrition classics; she consults from her home office in Langley. www.nutrispeak.com , tel. 604-882-6782 .
Vrinda Walker, who assisted with this article, is a dietetic intern and a personal fitness trainer at Kitsilano Fitness World (Broadway & Arbutus)