Mindful Eating Can Help You Achieve and Keep a Healthy Weight
Wait! What is it about weight that’s so complicated? Many things.
Ah, food! That delicious, enjoyable, healthy, devilish necessity of life that brings
satisfaction, companionship, distress, guilt and confusion.
Ugh, exercise! OK, walking is pleasant, if the weather is nice. Bicycle riding is fun. Dancing is a good way to exercise without noticing you’re exercising.
The gym?! For those who enjoy machines and pedaling away indoors, building muscles and working that heart to a healthy beat, the gym is a satisfying destination. Lots of motivating companionship at the gym, too.
The issue is how food and exercise combine with metabolism, genetics, stress, time to shop for healthy food, cook it appetizingly, and the whole kaleidoscope that adds up to the cringing reality of weight.
So many people – is it everyone, or does it just seem like that? – want to take off that extra 5 or 15 pounds. Maybe 50 pounds, if it’s been a long time since you paid attention and didn’t know what to do anyway.
A few folks are too skinny, and while it may seem a happy problem, being underweight can be unhealthy.
So what’s to be done about weight, about getting to the right number for you and staying there?
The recipe for eating a healthy amount for your body and meeting your health goals begins with paying attention to how much you eat, how it’s presented, the size of the portions and the environment where you eat.
Those elements are mostly in your control, don’t cost extra and can be pretty easily put into motion. That’s advice from Brain Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think.
“Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry,” says Wansink. “We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”
Wansink’s team at the food lab has conducted many studies about why we eat what we eat. He attributes rising overweight and obesity rates in America to the availability of food, the affordability of food and the attractiveness of food.
The solution, he says, is not to make food less available, less affordable or less attractive.
“The solution is to change your personal environment,” Wansink says. “It’s the one thing you can do tonight.”
Simple Steps to Eating Less and Shedding Pounds
A gentle approach to adjusting your environment for healthier eating is easier with a dash of humor. Winsink has produced a series of short videos that add laughter to meaningful changes that can cut calories and help extra pounds slip away. The main point, in his videoes and his book, is to eat mindfully – pay attention to the many, many little details that add up to how you eat.
Wansink’s perspective is: “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”
To achieve that “non-diet, healthy eating” state of mind and body he suggests:
- Slow down: Here’s where mindful eating begins. Chew slowly. Savor each bite. Put your fork down between bites. Stop eating occasionally and take a sip of water. Give your body enough time to signal to your brain that it’s satisfied.
- Pay attention: Don’t eat in front of the TV or the computer. No eating standing at the kitchen counter or talking on the phone. That can make you lose track of how much you’ve consumed.
- Use smaller plates: The smaller plate will look full with less food, so you’ll get used to eating smaller portions. When people use a big plate, they often serve themselves 25 percent more food and over time, the calories add up.
- Leave serving bowls off the table: That makes it more difficult to take a second or third helping.
- Keep healthy snacks around: If you have apples in the snack bowl instead of candy bars, you’ll eat the apples.
- Eat when you’re hungry: Nourish yourself based on hunger cues, not emotions. Don’t wait until you’re starved, however, because that may cause you to overeat.
The main thing is not to obsess over calorie counts or sink into guilt. Small positive changes add up over time and become a healthy routine that helps extra pounds slip away. The American Heart Association diet guidelines advise that overall eating patterns, not occasional indulgences, are what’s most important to maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. Mindful eating can become a healthy habit that allows your body to find its natural balance.
Wansink, Brian, “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.”
American Heart Association, “Using Mindfulness to Stop Overeating.”