Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: Eating smart is all in your mind

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Picture yourself at your most recent big holiday meal.

Did you pile your plate with food served from bowls and platters at the table?

Did you take some -- or a lot -- of everything, whether or not each food was a particular favorite?

Did you dig in when everyone else did and chat while eating, never even pausing to put down your fork?

And, when that first plate of food was gone, did you automatically seek seconds?

If that sounds familiar, you ate more than you actually wanted or needed. And you probably didn't enjoy it as much as you thought you would, especially when the meal was over and you were left feeling uncomfortably full.

Now picture this: At your next festive gathering, you serve yourself from bowls and platters in the kitchen, taking just the amount you want of only those foods you love best. Before digging in, you sit for a moment, even as those around you start eating, and you take in all the sights, scents and sounds of the holiday table. Then you lift your fork and taste, pausing to notice exactly how your food smells, its temperature, how it feels in your mouth, savoring its flavors. As you chew, you set down your fork. Only when you've fully enjoyed and eventually swallowed that first bite do you take another. By the end of the meal -- which you are the last to finish -- you are not just full but truly satisfied.

Which scenario sounds more celebratory?

I suppose an argument could be made for either. But proponents of a practice known as "mindful eating" are convinced that the second approach not only allows you to enjoy your food more but also can help you manage your weight during the holiday season and beyond.

Mindful eating is an outgrowth of a practice called mindfulness, itself an outgrowth of Zen Buddhism (but one that can easily be embraced without adopting Zen or any other philosophy). Mindfulness involves slowing down to savor all of life's details, to notice small things and appreciate every sensation. As applied to eating, mindfulness offers a means of making the most of every calorie you choose to ingest and can help you make those choices.

Psychologist Susan Albers has written extensively about mindful eating, particularly in her book "Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship With Food" (New Harbinger, 2003). She defines the practice as "a calm, focused, nonjudgmental awareness of what you eat. It focuses more on the way you eat rather than what you eat." Mindful eating, Albers adds, "is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes."

It takes three steps, she says. First, train yourself to really taste food, using all of your senses. Next, become aware of the habits and routines that govern your eating. Finally, tune in to your hunger and fullness, learning to distinguish between psychological and emotional hunger and true physical hunger.

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