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Most people think that a dietitian’s job is to tell people how to diet. This is sometimes true. However, more often than not, our goal is to teach people how to eat. This sounds silly, right? Most of us know mechanically how to eat, but many of us have lost touch with knowing the basics of feeding and nourishing our bodies. We no longer only eat to sustain ourselves. We eat out of boredom, in response to emotional triggers, and as a distraction. Turns out, the act of eating is far more complex than simply chewing and swallowing.
One of the first steps towards understanding how to eat is to implement the basics of mindful eating. Mindful eating is being aware of what we’re eating, when we’re eating, and why we’re eating. When you eat mindfully, you are listening to what your body really needs to function optimally, not what it wants temporarily. And while mindful eating isn’t a stand alone strategy for success, it creates a solid foundation that enables us to develop healthy eating habits that are realistic and long-lasting.
I heard an interesting comment from a foreigner who said the only thing Americans fear is inconvenience. Eating mindfully means we take the time to slow down. In a society that places high value on productivity and time, you may find this difficult. That’s okay. Take it one step at a time. Consistent small changes create big results.
Here are some tips for helping you start eating mindfully:
- The average American opens the fridge 22 times a day. Before eating, ask yourself the question “Am I really hungry?” Maybe you’re bored, maybe you’re thirsty. By simply asking this question more frequently, you can help yourself become more aware of what your why is.
- Get a better idea of your eating habits. Write down or take a picture of everything you eat for a day and review it before you go to bed. It’s very easy to convince ourselves of what our eating habits are; it’s another to call ourselves out on what we’re actually doing. This doesn't have to be something you do every day or for multiple days on end. Even one day should give you a good idea of what your eating habits are.
- “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.” If you feel that you’re an emotional eater, try writing down the emotions you have before and after you eat. You may notice that certain emotions trigger undesirable eating habits or actions. Include the times in which you eat as well in this exercise because certain times of the day may be indicative of certain habits.
- Remove screens from eating times. This includes phones, computers, televisions, etc. Have you ever looked down at your bowl between commercials to take another bite and realize that you’ve eaten your entire meal? Talk about disappointment! This is the epitome of mindless eating. Put away your screens and focus on what’s in front of you. Not only will you enjoy your meal more but you’ll notice more quickly when you’re full.
- Slow down by using your less dominant hand. This will force you to take smaller bites and lengthen the time it takes to finish a meal. You may realize this is extremely frustrating to begin with, but all the more reason why you should try the challenge.