“When Walking, Walk. When Eating, Eat.” A Lesson in Mindful Eating.

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For my final month of this amazing, yearlong experiment, I opted for an eating method unlike anything else I have tried.  December was characterized by “mindful eating,” which focuses on the hows and whys of eating instead of the whats.

virginia woolf- dined well

Background

Most diets take the approach of eliminating or emphasizing certain foods (i.e. eat less fat, eat more vegetables, stay away from wheat, only eat organic, etc.).  The problem with these approaches is that they don’t address the psychology of eating at all, and everybody knows that we, as humans, typically eat more for psychological reasons instead of out of actual hunger.  A lot of us know that we overeat and have issues with maintaining healthy portions, whereas others undereat and never feel satiated.  We focus on certain types of foods in an effort to attain a certain goal (high protein, low carb in order to get “cut”).  In doing so, we lose any sense of joy that comes from eating food.  If that’s not enough of a reason to switch your eating style, maybe the fact that you never attain said goals (likely because you never feel satisfied and then binge on “unhealthy” foods) is reason enough to change.

Mindful eating, unlike other approaches, teaches us how to enjoy food again by listening to our body’s cues.  Take a looksee at the plate below, which does a really great job at explaining what mindful eating “looks like” for a given meal.

Print

When practicing eating mindfully, the focus is to actually be present.  By being present, we can focus on the flavors and textures of food and appreciate our food more.  Turn off the TV, get away from your computer, and focus on your plate.  Another helpful practice is to actually put your fork down between bites.  Chew and swallow each bite before you take another.  By doing this, you’ll eat more slowly (if you’re prone to eating quickly, make a conscious effort to actually slow down), which means that you’ll probably notice when you’re full, thus preventing overeating.  Do you ever get through a meal and not even realize how it tasted? Practicing the above approaches to eating will help you enjoy your food and actually form a connection with it.  You’ll appreciate it more and likely not see eating as a “chore.”

Another important point about mindful eating is the conversations that arise about food – both with ourselves and with other people.  We can be extremely judgmental about our eating practices because 1) we are either unhappy with our bodies and we associate “unhealthy” habits with our body issues or 2) the media has done a really effective job at tricking you (and everyone else) into being apologetic and judgmental about everything we put in our bodies.  This is something that has to end if you are ever going accept yourself and actually be happy with attaining weight loss or health goals once you reach them.  When a judgmental thought arises when you choose ice cream over a piece of fruit, let it go.  Allow yourself to eat the ice cream, and use the approach that I outlined above to actually enjoy that ice cream and not overeat it.  When you’re eating with friends, don’t talk about dieting or make statements like, “I’m so fat.”  Don’t apologize for ordering the burger instead of the salad.  These words don’t help you – they only serve to foster feelings of guilt.  Furthermore, they may affect someone else who is struggling with food, self-esteem, or body issues.

My Experience

In many ways, this was simultaneously the hardest and easiest month of the year for me.  It was easy because shopping and cooking were more streamlined, and I didn’t have to overthink my menu.  I could eat any food at any restaurant, which was really nice when people asked, “Oh wait… what diet are you on this month? Can we go there?”  It was more difficult than many because I had to take the time to sit down and actually think about what I was eating, why I was eating, what I liked/disliked about my meal, pay attention to satiety cues, etc.  Isn’t that interesting? That actually thinking made this month more challenging than most? I’m sure I’m not alone in that reaction to mindful eating.

Some of the strategies that I used to be more mindful (in addition to what I outlined above) went as follows:

  • Setting the table and eating free from distractions.  I always say I don’t eat in front of the TV because I don’t… but I eat in front of my computer, watching Netflix, which is the same freaking thing.  I always looked at this as using my time efficiently, but that’s the equivalent of an 8 year old argument, and it’s time to stop that nonsense.
  • When at work, not checking emails while eating lunch.  Another thing that I thought was just efficiency.  I move too fast through my life.  There’s no legitimate reason to sacrifice my meal time to make it more efficient, when a better way to achieve efficiency would be to simply cut the extraneous BS out (like..Facebook).
  • Sitting down for snacks as well as meals.  When I get home, I typically go right to the pantry and grab a handful of something – almonds, popcorn, crackers, chocolate-covered-whatevers.  But this month I would ask myself, “are you willing to actually sit down and eat this?” Typically the answer was no because I wasn’t actually hungry, so I wouldn’t eat it.  It made me stop mindlessly munching on things, which is one of my worst dietary habits.
  • Attempting to eat slower.  I say attempt here because it turns out that I really am an extremely slow eater.  I’ve been told all my life that I’m ridiculously slow, but I always just thought that other people were fast.  Yes, every single person I’ve ever dined with was a fast eater and I was normal.  Makes sense… So I tried to slow down when doing mindful eating, and it was not possible.  And that’s when I finally accepted how slow I am (cue lightbulb turning on).  But most people should actually try this.

One of the things that I found most interesting about this month was people’s reaction to my description of mindful eating.  I would tell people about focusing on the flavors and textures of foods so that they would enjoy them more.  Many people who are focused on a health goal would reply with something along the lines of, “that sounds horrible because my food sucks.”  This always baffled me.  Just eat something that tastes better.  You can very easily attain a health goal while eating delicious food.  And that was something that I realized as well – I stopped eating crappy food this month because I was focusing on the flavors and textures.  This meant that I really avoided processed foods because I started paying attention to how much they suck.  Imagine that…

Final Stats

 

Goal/Normal

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Volumetrics

Mindful

Anthros
Weight

121-60

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

123.5

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

19.5

19.7

PBF

21-32

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

26.5

27

HC

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

38

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.7

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

105/72

108/75

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

1820

1855

Protein (%)

13058

15

22

19

15-61

16

18

20

CHO (%)

49-52

52

60

52

28-77

46

54

53

Fiber (g)

at least 25

30

23

25

30-52

28

31

28

Fat (%)

20-35

33

18

29

10-46

38

28

27

Sat Fat (%)

<10

8

7

8

3-7

7

7

8

Sodium (mg)

2300

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

1975

2325

Potassium (mg)

4700

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

3906

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

6-11

5-8

Cost

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

128.5

?

In general, there were no real changes from a health/dietary intake perspective.  I also didn’t track cost in December because I was home in Tucson for the last 9 days of the month, not buying groceries, so everything would be skewed.

Final Thoughts

This month resonated with me more deeply than any other month this year.  2013 has really been a year of striving to achieve mindfulness and presence on a very personal level.  I think this is true of many people, but I am very rarely present when I’m by myself, without the distraction and conversation of others.  My mind wanders to what I’ll be doing later, how I want to recount a specific activity to someone instead of just being present for that activity, and I fill my life with distractions – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… the internet, in general.  When I’m at work, I am often inefficient because I can only focus on a given activity for a few minutes before I check one of several social media sites or read a blog post.  These are habits I’m trying to break, but it’s a struggle. (You may be wondering how any of this relates to mindful eating, but it does (because everything relates to everything else 😉 I’m getting there).

One way that I have been working on mindfulness is via my yoga practice.  Yoga is a way to connect deeply with yourself in a way to better your relationship with yourself, which will benefit those around you, by working through series of asanas (postures).  The goal is to remain very present by focusing on your breath, the areas of the body that feel great as well as the areas that feel tension or discomfort.  My mind wanders constantly in yoga – as a way to escape the tension or discomfort and because that’s just what I do.  I make to do lists or daydream when I’m attempting to meditate, simply because I don’t know how to free my mind of thought and stay present.

This month felt like a culmination to what I’ve been working on personally for the whole year, even though I didn’t plan for it to end up that way.  I truly recognized how much of a journey all of this is (“this” meaning life or whatever you’re trying to work on with yourself).  Of course I knew that, but I hadn’t really enveloped it.  It’s all about progress.  One of my yoga teachers made the point that you don’t suddenly reach enlightenment when your heels finally make contact with the earth in downward facing dog.  It’s a journey of progress and a single success isn’t exciting if you didn’t have to work for it and earn it, nor is a single success exciting when it isn’t a part of a bigger picture.  This is true of all health goals too – whether it be weight loss, incorporating more vegetables into your daily routine, running a marathon, or mastering a balancing sequence in yoga.  You have your whole life to work towards making the best version of yourself, so take your time, be patient, and do it right.  When you don’t do it “right,” have the patience to come back to your center and start anew.  Be gentle with yourself and those around you.  And don’t take it all so damn seriously.

This mindful eating month provided a new approach to remaining present.  The focus was with food, but that transcended to other aspects of my life.  I found myself better (but not perfect) at meditation in yoga.  I stopped checking my Facebook account so much.  And I became more patient with myself and stopped having judgmental thoughts towards myself whenever my mind would wander in meditation, or I would check my Facebook even though I had just checked it, etc.  I just let it happen and then reconvened.  I can’t tell you how empowering this is: this practice of not being so self-critical because I finally realized that it gets me nowhere.  December was defined by progress, and it was the first month out of the whole year that I felt like I hadn’t learned all I needed to know about the given dietary approach in the allotted month.  I continue to eat mindfully into 2014, learning everyday from the approach, and I don’t think it’s something that will go away anytime soon. If you’d like more information on mindful eating, please comment, and I’ll send some resources your way!

And with that, 2013 has come to a close.  I’ll write a couple more posts to wrap everything up.  One will answer the questions that people asked me.  The other will summarize the year.  Not many people sent in questions, so please do if you have any!! Thanks, as always, for reading all these many many words 🙂

P.S. I’m sorry for ragging on Facebook so much in this post.  It’s a great forum and perfectly acceptable way to network with others.  I just have my own issues that need to be addressed.  It’s not Facebook’s fault.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Becoming a More Thoughtful Consumer | Health, with a Grain of Salt

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