The group eyed the tiny silver wrapped chocolate morsel in front of them. Carefully uncrinkling the paper and deeply inhaling its sweet cocoa scent, they popped the tiny triangle into their mouths.
Allowing the small bite to slowly dissolve they savoured the delightful mixture of creaminess and sweetness.
“Wow, that’s the best piece of chocolate I’ve ever eaten!”
Smiles, nods and low moans ensued around the table. What’s interesting is that this exchange was part of a nutrition education session that focused on mindfulness, the concept of being present in the moment, and mindful eating.
Mindfulness continues to gain widespread support to promote health and wellness, and mindful eating is being used as a tool to improve eating habits, encourage weight management, prevent chronic disease, and nurture a healthful relationship with food.
Registered dietitians often give advice about healthy food choices, meal balance and food preparation; however, we also help people improve the way they think – or don’t think – about food.
Have you ever had a snack disappear down the hatch while you weren’t looking? Or finish a large popcorn at the movies just because it was there?
I’m sure we can all relate to a time or two when we have consumed food without really focusing on the act of eating. But in this busy and highly distractible world, eating mindlessly, in the absence of actual hunger, at a rapid rate and even past the point of fullness is becoming a common problem.
Research suggests that changing our attitudes and awareness around meals and snacks may be every bit as important as considering what it is we actually put in our mouths.
Mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating) involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. It is paying attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, and the temperature of food. It is choosing enjoyable and nutritious foods, recognizing and honoring physical hunger and satiety cues and using inner wisdom to guide eating decisions.
As a registered dietitian, I am a firm believer that finding ways to slow down and to eat intentionally is an essential part of developing healthy eating habits.
Here are three ways to get you started:
Eat when you are eating. Don’t drive when you are eating, work when you are eating, watch TV when you are eating or stand at the fridge when you are eating. Put away the phones. Simply sit and eat. Give your plate your full undivided attention.
Eat slower. Remind yourself before you start that eating is not a race. Finishing first doesn’t make you the winner. Savoring your food is one of the healthiest things you can do. You are more likely to notice when you are full, you’ll chew your food more making digestion easier, and you’ll probably find yourself noticing flavors you might otherwise have missed.
Mindfully check in. Before, midway and after your meal, take a moment to rate your hunger on a scale of 1 (ravenous) to 10 (overly stuffed). Aim to stop eating at around 6 or 7 – you are satisfied, not stuffed.
The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Starting with even just one or two meals or snacks a week can make a big difference.
For a bigger taste of what mindful eating is all about come to my next Mindful Eating course, starting on Nov 17 at the Summerland Health Center. Chocolate may never taste so good and I promise you’ll love the homework!
Mindful Eating runs Tuesdays, Nov. 17 to Dec. 8 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. To register, call 250-770-3530. The program is free.
Sandra Turnbull, RD, CEC is a registered dietitian, certified executive coach with the Interior Health Authority.