To be mindful is to pay attention to something. The opposite is mindless. If you’ve ever sat down to watch a movie with an entire box or bag of popcorn and then wondered where it all went, you have a pretty good idea of what mindless eating is all about.
Tips for Eating Mindfully
By contrast, mindful eating means paying attention to and savoring every mouthful. This is a great way to not only enjoy your food more but also to actually slim down. Studies have shown that it takes around twenty minutes for your brain to receive a signal that your stomach is full. If you rush when you are eating, or eat while doing something else, it’s easy to cram in far more calories than you wish to. Combined with a lack of exercise, this can lead to weight gain.
The joy of food is all around us, though it can be less than joyful for people who struggle with their weight. However, new thinking about “dieting” can help. If we call it an “eating lifestyle” instead, it seems less restrictive and more within our control.
The traffic light system can also help because there is no such thing as forbidden food. Green for go, yellow for caution when it comes to calories, and red for being alert. Eat the yellow and red light foods sparingly. This means you can enjoy whatever foods you like as long as you eat them in moderation.
For example, if you love chocolate, allow yourself one piece of high-quality chocolate each day and sit and savor it, letting it melt in your mouth slowly – enjoying the taste of it and the feel of it in your mouth instead of chewing through it and then wanting more.
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Another example of mindless eating is emotional eating. At the first sign of stress or strong emotion, many people self-medicate using food to elevate their mood. This is all too easy to do in the US, where food seems to be everywhere, much of it junk food, convenience food, pre-prepared take-out, and delivery.
Junk food can elevate mood temporarily but soon leave you prey to more food cravings and an ever-increasing dependence on food to boost your mood. Emotional eating can be a vicious cycle as people seek more and more “comfort food” and end up more overweight and uncomfortable than before.
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Think about it. We don’t just use food for nourishment and fuel for the body. We also have emotional connections with it, causing our health to become skewed. Examples of this include:
* People in our society use food as a reward
* Many celebrations like Thanksgiving focus on food rather than family
* Up to one-third of adults have indulged in an eating binge (that is, out-of-control eating) in the last 30 days
* Few people have a clue about the calorie counts of the foods they eat
* Most Americans have no idea about portion sizes
* The US has become a nation of snackers
* 68% of the US population is overweight or obese
* 33% of children are overweight or obese
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Compare the statistic: 68% are overweight in the US compared with only 9% in Italy, which has one of the greatest cuisines in the world. How is this possible, you might ask? It’s a question of habits and attitudes to food, and what is being eaten – now commonly referred to as the Mediterranean diet. This diet is comprised of small portions of lots of different fresh foods, mainly fruits, and vegetables, with small portions a couple of times a week of fish, cheese, poultry, and red meat.
Their pizza is thin-crust, not deep pan or stuffed, and loaded with vegetables and a small amount of skim milk cheese – not tons of pepperoni with double cheese. Above all, the food is fresh and home-cooked, not mass-produced.
One of the most common types of emotional eating is stress eating. When the person is under stress, their response is to reach for food almost mindlessly. Of course, all of us lead fairly stressful lives, so you can just imagine how that person can start packing on the pounds in only a short time if they reach for a donut, candy, soda, or other empty calories every time things get tough at work or school.
Most people will agree that they really enjoy food. In particular, a well-prepared meal eaten in a leisurely manner can be one of life’s best and even most romantic experiences. Several courses stretching out in a relaxed atmosphere can create an emotional state of happiness, with a focus on savoring the moment as well.
Italians eat at the table as a family almost every night and take about two hours to consume their food and wine. Some nations even have a two-hour lunch break so they can go home and eat with their family and even have a “siesta”, a little sleep, so they will be refreshed and be able to work well for the rest of the day.
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It is great to want to get together with family and friends to enjoy a meal, provided it is a healthy one. However, in the US, we tend to overindulge. One study showed that at a Thanksgiving gathering, several people ate more than 1,000 calories in snacks, appetizers, and alcohol before they ever even sat down at the table for their dinner. The woman who consumed 1,300 calories to start with ended up eating a total of nearly 5,000 calories in one single meal. Eating 2,000 excess calories equals one pound of weight gain. You have to burn 3,500 to lose one pound.
Fortunately, many menus are starting to list calorie counts. Your favorite fast food and family restaurants should also list them on their website, so you can know before you go. You might be surprised to find that what you believe to be healthy, such as the filet of fish sandwich, or a salad, actually has more calories and fat in it than an entire Happy Meal.
One other way to make the most of eating out if you do plan to visit a restaurant is to order only dishes that you can’t make yourself. Pasta and egg dishes are all cheap and easy to make, so look for something different. Divide up your meal into one small portion and have your server give you a doggie bag for the rest. Then parcel it up into TV-style dinners for a treat you can enjoy in the future. By eating mindfully, you can save both calories and cash.
One of the nice things about restaurant meals is trying new recipes. But cooking isn’t that hard. Anyone can read a recipe. Let’s look at some of the main benefits of cooking at home in the next section.