All July, the Joslin Blog is highlighting stories about taking care of yourself emotionally. This story was originally posted on May 4, 2012.
“I know what I should do, I just can’t get myself to do it!” It’s a refrain dieticians hear too often from patients having trouble changing their diets. And seven out of ten times they are right–they do know what to do. The basics of a healthful diet can be found in any good nutrition book or reliable website. But it’s the act of eating that people have lost touch with, and getting that back will aid with major changes in eating styles.
This is where the idea of mindful eating comes in. Mindfulness means paying attention or being aware of what is happening to you both physically and emotionally at each particular moment without judging your feelings. It’s that whole idea of being “in the moment” without past or future concerns intruding.
This mindset can be helpful in retraining eating behavior. You can mold yourself to eat based on your body’s own cues of hunger and satiety rather than preconceived notions of what is appropriate.
In our society, eating occasions are often a hastily tacked on appendage to the main event: having a muffin and coffee while driving to work, grabbing a sandwich to take to a lunch meeting. Often, we can’t recall, if asked later in the day, what we had for lunch or how it tasted. We eat because it is “time” to eat or because food is offered to us or because it is polite to do so.
Or worse, we use food as a palliative for emotional distress. Think of the occasions you may have eaten something because you were bored or stressed. Whole bags of chips or cartons of ice cream are devoured this way, often in record time.
Later you may feel physically overstuffed and emotional ashamed of your behavior. Ice cream and chips may then start to take on emotional significance; they become “bad” foods instead of just foods.
In rethinking and paying attention to how we eat, all aspects of food should be experienced: its taste, texture, aroma and its direct immediate effects on your body. For people with diabetes this includes your blood glucose’s response to the meal.
You acknowledge your responses to food without judging yourself. Liking or eating chocolate cake or disliking broccoli doesn’t make you a good or bad person. Food loses its punitive value and as such you gain control over it. Then you can start opening yourself up to new food experiences.
One of the ways to start being mindful is to designate a space to eat that is dedicated solely to eating—the kitchen or the dining room, for example.
Next may be to dedicate time to the enjoyment of the food you have chosen. It takes a while for the brain to send signals to your body that you have consumed enough nourishment. Make sure you have at least 20 minutes to devote to enjoying your meal. And wait a while before you go back for seconds—your body doesn’t register fullness right away. If you’re still hungry in 10 minutes, go back for that second, smaller portion.
Then start to pay attention to the physical attributes of the meal. What does it smell or taste like? Do you find it pleasing? If you needed to describe your meal to a friend, could you? Once you start asking yourself these questions, you’ll feel like you’re truly experiencing the meal, which will make it more satisfying.
Mindful eating isn’t a replacement for knowing which foods contain carbohydrates, or understanding the difference between high and low glycemic foods. These things are still important, but it can help put food back in its proper perspective as something to enrich the senses, satisfy hunger and provide nutrient needs.
For more information about mindful eating check out the Center for Mindful Eating at www.tcme.org.