It’s estimated that about 45 million Americans are on a diet at any given time. That means that 45 million people are focused on what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat each day. But the larger question many health-conscious eaters are missing is WHY are we eating?
Yes, we need to eat to nourish our bodies, but too many times, we choose to eat for a number of other reasons, especially when it comes to comfort. Working to understand our own food habits and practicing mindful eating strategies can be the key to eating well more often.
- Emotional eating during times of stress, discomfort, or boredom often leads to less healthy food choices and overeating. In fact, certain foods (primarily those that contain higher amounts of sugar and fat) act on the body in a way to decrease stress for the short term. It’s no wonder many people reach for comfort foods when sad or stressed.
- Distracted eating is another common cause for overeating. Activities like watching television, checking email, driving, scrolling through social media, or playing a game on a phone or tablet while we eat takes our attention off what and how much we are eating. According to the American Journal of Nutrition, eating while distracted by other activities often causes people to eat more, resulting in an increase of calories and a lowered awareness of hunger and satiety.
The answer to distracted and emotional eating is mindful eating.
Mindful eating is about practicing food awareness and can include reducing or eliminating distractions while you eat, helping you focus on how you are feeling and why you are eating, making thoughtful food choices, and paying attention to how you are enjoying the food and whether or not you are full.
Mindful eating doesn’t restrict the type of food you choose. This allows for each person to consider what it is that they really want to eat. In fact, the first question is usually what do I want to eat? This question can then be followed by how am I feeling? Am I hungry, anxious, thirsty, sad, stressed? If you are hungry, then eat! If you aren’t hungry, consider why do I want to eat? By considering your hunger and your emotions, you can quickly decide what is truly the best thing to support your body. In times of stress, you can find ways to ease feelings using something other than food. Try listening to music, reading a book, getting outside, taking a walk, or talking to a friend. Even a short nap can help!
Avoiding other activities while you eat is another way to help you focus on your food choices, eat more slowly and savor your food. Creating a habit of enjoying meals without distractions or sharing more meals around the family table can help. Pay attention to your hunger level, choosing to stop eating when full but before you feel “stuffed.” Consider how the food tastes after the first bite. The third. The tenth. Food often tastes less delicious when we are no longer hungry. Notice temperature, texture, and flavor.
If trying to stick to a diet hasn’t worked for you, try mindful eating. With practice, we can learn to stay in tune with our hunger and our emotions and match our food choices with our health goals. This can help alleviate the guilt we feel when we eat a food considered “bad,” since no food is off limits and all foods can be enjoyed mindfully and in moderation. Whether your goal is to improve your health, lose weight, or heal your relationship with food, mindful eating could work for you.
Source: Complete Wellness Solutions, Completely Well newsletter, January 2021