Whenever my husband heads to the kitchen, our dogs are quick to follow. Drives him beyond nuts!
You see, my husband is a fantastic cook, and he prepares most of our meals, and whether he is going in to prep food, cook food or simply to remove something from the refrigerator, to the dogs, my husband’s trek to the kitchen … and food … are synonymous.
So, why is this? Because dogs (and all animals for that matter) instinctually know that in order to survive, they need food. And, in the case of dogs, they don’t cognitively know where their next meal is coming from, so they need to rely on their instinct.
The instinctual need for food is something that follows us from the day we are born, until the day we die. We’re hungry … we eat … rinse and repeat.
It’s pretty simple really. Well … not really.
There are many reasons why we eat that are not due to instinct. We eat when we are bored, we eat when we are sad, anxious or stressed or even just thirsty. We eat in celebration and tradition, and many of us eat simply because we love food, and they even have a name for that now. It’s called being a “foodie”.
The problem is, we can very easily start a pattern of not thinking about what we eat, or why we’re eating, and just doing it … in the name of hunger … even when that isn’t really the reason.
So what does it mean to be mindful? I mean, it’s the trend du jour and everyone is talking about this powerful Buddhist concept.
Well, in a nutshell, it means to be in the moment and not somewhere else. It’s to really think about what we are doing, when we are doing it and not thinking about the past or the future, but only the present.
I also think it means to take a step back, pause and consider our actions and their consequences.
So how do we apply that to food?
Here’s 8 things to try:
- Make a journal of everything you eat in a day. Try it for a few days even. You’ll be surprised at what kinds of foods, and how much of it, you are eating. Eating is kind of like spending money. The amount we eat can add up … really fast! Then look at the list in detail, and ask yourself some questions. Things like: “Why did I eat this?”; “Did I really want to eat this?”; “Could I have lived without eating this”? or “Could I have gotten the same enjoyment by eating less of this?”, and most importantly, “Was the enjoyment I got from eating this worth the consequence, i.e. weight gain, health, etc.?”
- Make time for eating, and meal planning. In years past, eating was a celebrated part of the day, and a lot of effort went into planning, preparing, eating, and in fact, cleaning up after the “event”. Unfortunately, our lives have become so busy that we take meals for granted and have begun eating whatever is the quickest thing. And, with all of the fast-food that is now available to us, it has become easier and easier to do this. If we don’t leave enough time to plan and eat the things we really want to be eating, we won’t end up doing it.
- Before eating anything at all, take a quick second to ask yourself if you really want to eat it. This sounds time-consuming, but it really isn’t once you get into the habit. Oftentimes we are presented with food situations that are out of the ordinary (I work in an office where bags of candy are sometimes purchased for the staff to enjoy), but that doesn’t mean that we have to partake. Before you know it, one piece of candy can turn into 10 if we’re not paying attention, and taking a quick second to remind yourself of why, or why not, you want to eat, or not eat, a particular item can help avoid this.
- This one is pretty simple. Plan the times of day you want to eat. Some people eat 3 times a day, some 4, and some 6, depending on what kind of an eating plan they are on. But here’s the thing. Once you have decided on your plan, don’t snack between these times and don’t eat anything else. I think we are all guilty of “grazing” throughout the day, but I think it is easier to be mindful about eating when there is a schedule to it. Of course, life being life, things will take us by surprise and this won’t always be possible, but it’s still great to have a guideline.
- If you are planning a snack for a recreational activity, especially watching television in the evening, plan exactly what your snack is and when it’s finished, you’re done! Too often, we dip into a bag of chips, popcorn or cookies … yikes! … and don’t stop until the bag, or the evening, is over.
- When filling a plate with food, think about portion sizes. I know that oftentimes when I am in a hurry, I will simply fill my plate without thinking, start eating and think, wow, I can’t eat all of this, but end up eating it anyway because I have put it on my plate! I also think that the restaurant industry has led our palates to believe that we need more food than we do, and that we can be quite satisfied with less. There are several schools of thought about what constitutes a portion size, depending on different eating plans, but here’s a great article and video from Carmen Chai of Global News called Trying not to overeat? Here’s what your portion sizes should look like that provides some great guidelines.
- Ah, the dreaded buffet. Events with buffet-style spreads with a lot of different food choices always make things challenging. Something to try, is to do a reconnaissance! The Oxford Dictionary definition of reconnaissance is this: military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features. Well the buffet table can be an enemy … if you let it! But don’t! Discreetly turn your head to the table before the first approach to see what kinds of foods are offered. Plan out in your head how many trips to the table you plan to take, and what kinds of foods you are going to eat, keeping in mind all of the questions in paragraph 1. This may sound like it takes the fun out of the event, but in the long run, it won’t, and there’s nothing worse (for eating that is) than getting caught up in visiting with someone only to find you’ve eaten half the table without thinking while you have done so!
- Keep track of ingredients in the foods you are eating whether it be in recipes or when eating out. When cooking, even from recipes, there can be many “hidden” ingredients that can be eliminated or replaced with the result being just as appetizing (and if there isn’t just make a note to eat a little less).For eating out, create a “Nutrition Guide” collection, so you know exactly what is in the foods you are eating. Many high end restaurants won’t have these, but many franchises will.
- Mindful eating isn’t time consuming once you get into the habit. It’s just a matter of making food consumption a priority and changing your lifestyle a bit.
Here’s a great article by Darya Rose of Summer Tomato that offers some more great mindful eating tips.
Bonus tip for moms and dads of young children. If your kids don’t eat everything on their plate … DON’T finish it for them. We all get into this habit, don’t we? We live in a world where waste is shamed, and of course, we should all be mindful of that too, but try to remember, you’re not a trash can, and your body and your health deserve better!