Be mindful of your eating habits

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By Maryellen Garrison

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions we make is to lose weight. Eating the correct portions of nutritious foods and engaging in physical activity are two keys to successful weight loss. One way that may help you keep your portions under control is to be mindful of what you eat.

Mindful eating means you eat slowly and enjoy your food with all your senses. When you are more mindful of what you eat, you may become more aware of when you become full, which prevents overeating.

In our society, everything is rushed, including meals. When we eat too fast our body doesn’t have enough time to send signals to the brain to tell us that we are full. It takes 20 minutes for food to reach the first part of the small intestine after its ingested. At this point our bodies send the “full” signals to the brain to stop eating.

 People who eat mindlessly are more likely to overeat and gain weight. They also tend to enjoy their food less because they don’t take time to experience its flavors and textures. Some examples of mindless eating include those who eat because there’s food on their plates, those who eat while working on the computer or watching television, and those who are so hungry at mealtimes that they gobble down their food not realizing they are full.

In many countries, mindful eating is engrained into the culture. Many Japanese practice Hara Hachi Bu, which involves eating only until they are 80 percent full. This requires that they pay attention to their body and stop eating when they are almost full.  The more food you eat, the more your stomach will stretch. Stomach stretching can enlarge the stomach over time and make you less aware of when you are actually full. Practicing Hara Hachi Bu prevents overeating and helps them maintain a healthy weight.

In France, many people set aside two hours for dinner, which is the largest meal of the day. They see dinner as an opportunity to leisurely eat, enjoy their food and spend time with family and friends. A typical dinner consists of six courses. While this may sound like a lot of food, their portion sizes are 25 percent smaller than typical American sizes. They also have smaller snack and beverage sizes.

An important aspect of mindful eating is selecting foods that your body needs for good health. For example, fill half your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Remember, a colorful plate means a greater variety of nutrients. Fill one quarter of your plate with whole grains, and complete your plate with a small amount of protein. Remember to include a low-fat or fat-free milk or a dairy product or milk alternative if you cannot tolerate dairy. 

Here are some tips to help you become a mindful eater:

• Don’t let the clock dictate what time you eat.  Eat only when you’re hungry, but make sure you eat before you get too hungry. Being famished can cause overeating.

• Create a nice environment for dinner.

• Try not to eat in front of the television and eliminate other distractions.

• Have meals with your family.

• Enjoy the aroma and colors of your food and be thankful you have food to eat.

• Take small bites and chew properly.

• Use smaller plates.

Follow MyPlate guidelines to make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need check out: www.choosemyplate.gov.


Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.