March is National Nutrition Month, a nutrition and education campaign of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Throughout the month we’ll be featuring advice and tips from the Academy, which is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.
The 2016 theme is to “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.” The theme reminds us to take time to enjoy food and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences that food can add to our lives. It also suggests developing mindfulness around eating, by deliberately paying attention to what you’re eating and drinking.
Mindful eating means noticing the smells, colors, texture, flavors and sounds of the food. It is awareness without judgement, of yourself or anyone else. What does hunger feel like? What does satisfaction feel like? What does overeating feel like? How does our mood influence our eating? Are we truly eating because of hunger? Are we anxious and eating for stress relief? (It’s called “comfort food” for a reason.)
Mindful eating means not getting distracted, or quickly end the distraction and get back to just eating. Our world is full of distractions. Is the TV on while you’re eating? Are you checking email on your phone, or browsing the web? Is your focus on posting pictures of your food rather than eating it (or responding to comments from your last food photo post)? Notice those distractions, or impulses toward a distraction, let it go, and return to focusing on your food.
Why is mindful eating important? It provides an opportunity for a change. With awareness, you can change your relationship with food, for example, using hunger and satisfaction to decide to start and stop eating, rather than the clock or serving size on the plate. You can identify when emotions like stress, or social pressures, trigger you to eat mindlessly.
Research is already showing how mindful eating may help with weight loss. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register fullness (satiety); eat too fast, and this signal for fullness may come after overeating has already occurred. Distracted eating, like while driving or typing, may slow down or stop digestion similar to a “flight or fight” response. Mindfulness may help people recognize the difference between physical and emotional hunger, and allow them to make a conscious choice between the urge and eating.
Up next: Experiment with herbs and spices to savor the flavor of eating right.