MINDFUL EATING: Eating with Full Awareness and Attention Can Improve Your Health and Your Relationship with Food

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by Julie A. Jarzombek

“I hate food… but I love food.” How did we get to this love-hate relationship with food? From my professional experience, the answer is we often eat mindlessly.

As readers of this magazine know, mindfulness promotes balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance of what is. Practicing mindful eating can help you redefine your relationship with food, so that food becomes simply what it is: fuel for your body.

What is mindful eating? It is simply becoming aware of the experience of eating and drinking, both internally and externally. It is about becoming aware of the positive and negative nurturing opportunities available through food preparation and consumption. It is also about learning to truly love food – paying attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures and even the sounds of our food.

It can be difficult to change old eating habits and strong beliefs about food. It can also be hard to ignore your internal feelings and needs when it comes to eating. These kinds of changes take time and are best accomplished through many small changes over an extended period of time.

Mindful Eating Challenge

Here’s your challenge: Pick one of the tips below to focus on for a full week. Then, next week pick another tip and do the same thing. In 10 weeks, you will be amazed at how much more mindfully you eat and enjoy your food.

1. Sip with full attention. Practice taking the first four sips of a cup of hot tea or coffee with full attention.

2. Slow down. Practice eating slowly (20-30 minutes each meal) by putting your fork down between bites and chewing slowly, savoring each flavor.

3. No multitasking. Practice avoiding activity while eating; this includes watching TV, driving, interacting with electronics, reading, working, etc.

4. Eat in silence. Try eating one meal mindfully, alone and in silence. Do this by eating in your office behind a closed door, or going home for lunch to eat alone in silence. Try asking your family to be silent during the first five minutes of a family meal to think about the many people who brought the food to your plate.

5. Go hands-free. We tend to take bigger bites and eat faster when we eat foods with our hands, so practice eating a meal each day using utensils for the full meal.

6. Sit down. It’s amazing how many people eat while standing or walking. Those who do sit are often slouching or in some poor body position. Practice sitting up straight for a full meal.

7. Breathe. Take a few slow, deep breaths to center yourself before you begin eating. This will help you slow down so that you can give eating your full attention.

8. Avoid the couch. Have your meals while sitting at a table. This helps make eating your primary focus.

9. Reflect on slip-ups. As you’re taking this mindful eating challenge, you will naturally slip back into old habits. When this happens and you consume a meal mindlessly, reflect on the cause and effects of this experience. Once you are aware of the cause, you can change the effect.

10. Eat before you are really hungry. When we have that low-blood-sugar feeling and have major hunger pains, we usually choose less healthy foods and eat more than we should. Practice eating a meal each day before that famished feeling hits.

JulieJulie A. Jarzombek, M.A., LPC, NCC, is a licensed therapist and nutritionist who manages the Psychology and Nutrition Department at the Nix Weight Loss Center in San Antonio. She has more direct experience working with bariatric patients than any nutritionist in San Antonio. She works with patients to prepare them for the significant lifestyle changes that are necessary for successful weight loss surgery and educates them about the components of a healthy diet and healthy eating. For information about the Nix Weight Loss Center, South Texas Surgeons, P.A., visit www.nixweightlosscenter.com/newyou.

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