To Eat or Not to Eat
Hunger cues are often talked about, but what I find is often clients cannot truly tell if they are hungry or eating out of habit/ritual. Children are born with the innate ability to self-regulate, but somewhere along the way the lines seem to get blurred. I find I spend a lot of time discussing self-awareness and the behavioral aspect of eating when doing nutrition counseling with clients. With the holidays coming up, it should come as no surprise this is a topic of focus for many. In order to assess the appropriateness of eating, there are several factors to be considered. The purpose of this blog is to help those who may be struggling with putting food into its proper place.
People eat for many reasons – hunger, boredom, comfort and avoidance to name a few. Some people report they do not eat for enjoyment, but rather for fuel. While I agree fueling the body should be a primary reason for eating, I also feel food should be something to be enjoyed. When we consider all the misinformation that has run rampant on the internet, it is easy to see how food may no longer be enjoyable for some. For many, it may have even become a point of stress. Mindful eating practices may be something you have been doing for years or perhaps this is something new for you. If this is something you have never really focused on when making lifestyle changes, then this blog is for you.
Below are some factors to consider when assessing your mindfulness.
1. Where do you eat? In my opinion, where you eat is almost as important as what you choose to eat. Some things to keep in mind are that when you are not eating at the table, you are more likely to ignore hunger/satiety cues and just finish what is on your plate regardless due to outside distractions. If you have an appropriate amount of food on your plate to begin with this is not as much of an issue, but what if your portions are larger than they should be? Do you have certain foods you tend to eat in the recliner only or in your bedroom? Have you checked in with yourself about why these foods are consumed in these specific locations – would they feel as satisfying if consumed at the table? Aim to set a goal for eating at the table only. Check in with yourself about why this food may or may not be as “satisfying” if consumed at the table as opposed to the recliner or bedroom.
2. How is your meal pacing? Did you know it takes time for the brain to receive the signal from your stomach that you are satiated? When we go prolonged periods of time between meals we tend to eat more quickly, which can result in overeating due to not allowing the appropriate amount of time for the signal to occur. If you have always been a fast-paced eater, then it will likely take time to adjust to slowing down and eating mindfully. In order to start this process, make sure you prioritize 20-30 minutes for your meals. If you find that you are eating quickly make a point to engage in conversation, takes sips of water frequently throughout the meal, and challenge yourself to engage all 5 senses with each bite. Another tip to slow your pace with eating is to switch to your non-dominant hand.
3. Do you always finish your plate? I have come across several people who grew up as part of the “clean plate club”. Perhaps finishing your plate was a rule in your home when growing up or you practice this with your children to get them to finish their vegetables. Either way, this is a habit that can quickly deter you from achieving a mindful eating pattern. If you always finish your plate, challenge yourself to leave a couple of bites a few times this week to see how you feel about it. You may be surprised that you feel empowered or physically more comfortable. You may even find that you have difficulty with feelings of being “wasteful”. These are all factors to consider when practicing more mindful eating habits.
4. What prompts you to eat? I think it is safe to say that everyone has ate out of emotion at some point, but at times some people may be completely unaware and eat on “auto-pilot”. When clients are unsure of if it is true hunger I typically have them create a hunger/satiety scale in which they address what true hunger feels like versus satiety – everyone describes this differently. Next, we discuss when they typically start eating versus stop eating and where this falls on their hunger/satiety scale. Again, somewhere along the lines our self-regulating ability seems to get lost for some. It is important to check in with yourself to see what it is you are truly needing. Perhaps you tend to turn to food out of boredom. If you are unsure if it is boredom, I typically recommend aiming to find a distraction (something that really engages you) for 20 minutes then try an reassess the situation. If you are hungry, then honor the hunger cue and nourish your body. If it is late at night, it could be you are just tired. If you just finished a meal recently (within the past 2 hours or so) you may just not have had enough at your last meal or you may be wanting to eat due to another reason outside of hunger such as feeling upset or bored.
5. Do you keep eating when you see others eating or go back for more because you finished before everyone? During the holidays this is a common barrier, especially for those who would deem themselves “fast-paced eaters”. Remember to watch your meal pacing and to check in with yourself about your hunger level prior to deciding to go back and get more. If you feel like you will be missing out on a special food if you don’t go back for more, then make a point to include that food into your meal pattern more often.
To eat or not to eat? Above all else, eat mindfully and trust your gut (pun intended). As we enter in to the holidays, we would love to hear about what mindful eating practices have been most helpful for you.
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