Do you grab food on the go, either at the drive-thru or out of your cabinets as you rush out the door? Do you look at your phone while eating? Do you ever stare at your computer screen while taking a bite? Do you ever watch TV while munching? Do you try to eat and drive? Eat something while standing up? Do you ever find yourself eating because you’re anxious or bored or procrastinating?
At one time I would have said yes to all of these. In our fast paced society, we are conditioned to go, go, go. Our society has also made us believe we are supposed to be on some sort of a diet or detox – Weight Watchers, Keto, grapefruit diet, military diet, Atkins, intermittent fasting to name a few.
You and I both know diet and detoxes don’t work. Well, they may work for a short period of time but the results don’t last. They leave us feeling depressed and bad about ourselves. We might think, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I lose the weight? If only I had willpower.”
This way of thinking is counterproductive and will never give us the results we crave.
Instead, when you learn to eat with attentiveness, you’ll form a healthy relationship with food and start trusting your body. If you are hungry, you’ll eat more food. If you are feeling full, you will stop eating.
Attentive eating is about slowing down and savoring each bite, not having any food off-limits and listening to and trusting your body. When you are eating attentively, you are truly present in the moment with your food rather than mindlessly taking a bite or being distracted.
It’s about engaging all your senses and not rushing through meals. At your next meal, look at your plate. What colors do you see? When you take a bite, pay attention to the flavors and textures.
Is your food spicy? Salty? Sweet? Savory? Sour? Tangy? What sounds do you hear? Is your food crunchy or soft? What aromas do you smell?
Embarrassingly, I used to be the worst. I’d grab a coffee and dart out the door. I would scarf down a granola bar while driving to work. There were times when I actually looked on the floor mat of the car to see if a piece of the granola bar fell out because I couldn’t believe I had eaten the whole thing already. Sadly, there was nothing on the ground.
Hurriedly, I would gulp down my coffee, too. Instead of smelling the aroma and sipping it, I would drink it like I had just finished running a race and needed to get hydrated.
Unfortunately, this way of eating left me starving only an hour or two later. At that point, I was so hungry, I would eat anything in sight.
When we eat too fast, our brains don’t have enough time to communicate with our gut and we end up hungry more often.
Mark David, author of The Slow Down Diet, has researched the metabolic power of relaxation and found that how we eat is just as important as what we eat.
He states, “It’s not only important what we eat, but the mental state we are in when we eat.”
Eating under stress slows down your digestion but when you are relaxed, your digestion can fully function. If you are stuck and just can’t seem to lose that extra weight, examine the stress in your life. More times than not, once you stop worrying about losing 10 pounds, your digestion and metabolism will start working properly and you will lose the unwanted weight.
Likewise, when there are no distractions, such as your phone or computer, you will be fully present with your food and be able to listen to your body. This way you are able to detect when you are full. When you notice you are full, you can stop eating and avoid unwanted weight gain.
Learning to eat attentively is also about not having any foods off-limits. Most people doubt this part of attentive eating because we are brainwashed into labeling food as healthy or sinful.
If I say I ate a brownie, most people put them in the sinful or bad category. If I say I ate an apple, it usually goes into the healthy category. As Susan Hyatt, author of BARE, puts it, “What if food is just… food.”
What if we lost the labeling and just saw food for what it is: fuel. Imagine if we ate food to fuel our bodies and listened to our bodies to tell us what we need to eat.
If you tell yourself you can’t have a certain food group, that’s what you’re going to want. You’ll crave it. Sneak it. Binge on it. If I go on a no sugar diet, I’m going to crave sugary foods. If I am on the Atkins diet, I’m going to crave carbs. Eventually you’re going to eat sugar or bread.
One time I told myself I wasn’t going to eat any more sweets. I was doing really well until I was left in a room all alone with a plate of brownies. I looked around the room to make sure no one was looking and then I shoved two in my mouth and swallowed them whole, not tasting them at all.
Afterwards, I felt bad about myself and I thought I just didn’t have enough will power. This left me feeling like I had no control. Instead of allowing myself to eat the brownie and savor it, I overindulged and felt like a failure. But when we allow ourselves to eat the brownies or whatever food we think is “bad” and enjoy it, we won’t feel deprived and we’ll eat just the right amount.
When we are slowing down, savoring each bite, and not having any food off-limits, we can listen to the signals in our body. This is so scary for us because this goes against everything we have been told by the diet industry, which is making billions of dollars.
Marketing research states the total U.S. weight loss market grew an estimated 4.1 percent in 2018 and the total market is forecast to grow 2.6 percent annually through 2023.
On the other hand, deciding to listen to and trust your body costs nothing.
Attentively eating is about having a mind-body connection. It is a process you have to learn but once you practice it consistently, you will notice your body’s hunger signals. When you notice your body’s hunger signals, you won’t become starved or stuffed and instead will eat just the right amount.
Also, you will notice you automatically crave foods that are more packed with the vitamins and nutrients your body needs..
You’ll be able to better recognize how your body handles certain foods. You might notice you feel bloated when you have gluten or you are more gassy when you have dairy. Are there foods that mess with your sleep? Foods that make you feel tired or foods that energize you?
Surprisingly, some foods you thought you liked don’t taste as good and foods you thought you loved don’t really do it for you anymore.
For example, I ate bananas because I had labeled them as “healthy” but when I ate them attentively, I didn’t like the texture. I used to love sugar cookies with the big fat layer of icing and sprinkles on top but when I started to eat them attentively, I realized they tasted chalky and stuck to the roof of my mouth.
When you listen to your body, it’s easier to notice your food patterns throughout the day. For example, in the mornings I realized a granola bar and coffee just weren’t enough to fuel me up. I needed something with more protein. I switched to eating a bowl of yogurt with fresh berries and granola, eggs with peppers or oatmeal with blackberries in it.
Instead of being starved at 9 or 10 a.m., these foods filled me up.
At lunch I used to have a “healthy” salad but by 2 or 3 p.m., I was completely dragging. This led me to shoving anything in my mouth to take away my hunger pains.
Once I noticed this pattern, I realized I needed to eat more protein at lunch. I started adding chicken strips or tuna to my salad, which left me satisfied.
When you are listening to your body’s hunger signals, one of the bigger obstacles is feeling like you are wasting food.
I remember my dad always saying, “You better eat your food… there are starving kids around the world.” This made me feel guilty for not eating all my food even though I wasn’t hungry.
Let’s be honest, though, wiping your plate clean or eating too much food doesn’t solve world hunger. It just hurts you. Instead, donate to a local food bank.
Listening to your body can be as simple as before you eat, asking yourself, “Am I really hungry?”
You’ll start noticing you may grab food because you’re bored. You may be grabbing food because you’re anxious. You may be grabbing food because you are procrastinating doing something.
The snack size summary of attentive eating is when you start slowing down and savoring your food, stop labeling foods as good or bad, and start listening to your body, you will transform your relationship with food.
Challenge yourself to sit down without any distractions and really pay attention to what you are eating. In addition,with the holiday parties and family gatherings just around the corner, practice eating the savory appetizers and sweet treats instead of mindlessly munching.
This year, leave your holiday dinners feeling happy, satisfied and fueled rather than stuffed and miserable.
To learn more about attentive eating, visit amywagenknecht.com or call 314-369-8333.