Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mindful Eating

Do you eat to live… or do you live to eat? This is a question my brother brought to my attention during one of our many discussions relating to food and nutrition and I think it’s a great one. I think my siblings and I primarily eat to live, rather than live to eat. A lot of our relatives and friends don’t understand this way of life and often respond with: “How can you not gorge yourself with lasagna and homemade cookies when they are right there and are so delicious?!”  Personally, I like food, but I have learned to really like healthy foods (ie: I honestly enjoy them- I prefer grilled vegetables over any cut of meat, pasta, mashed potatoes, french fries, etc. I don’t eat them just because they are healthy- I sincerely prefer the taste). I also know that I will have other opportunities in my life to eat cookies, so I don’t need to load up at that particular time. I do like unhealthy foods too… I enjoy cookies, pumpkin pie, ice cream, candy, etc. So, I do eat those unhealthy foods in moderation. I’m lucky that I’m not the type of person that craves junk food and can’t stop eating, but I also know that eating more of anything won’t make me feel any better and doesn’t do anything for me, so what’s the point? Living at college also taught me to buy food on a budget… so I think that really helped me out in the long run. When I grocery shop I don’t usually buy cookies or candy because I see it as just throwing my money away. I could use that $2.50 I would have spent on junk food and use it to buy my favorite Trader Joe’s hummus, or an exotic piece of fruit I haven’t had before. I believe that anyone can train themselves to think this way….. I didn’t do it purposely, but taking nutrition classes and living on a budget really made me think about where I spent my food dollars.

Anyway, back to mindless eating: During our whole existance, humans have always relied on food for survival. It is only recently that food is plentiful, and calorie-dense food is the norm, so most Americans do not have to binge on food when it becomes available…. because it is almost always around. What I just said partially explains the obesity epidemic. Our bodies are built for survival, and our bodies have evolved over the centuries to have a liking for fat and sugar (calorie dense= more energy, more insulation= better chance of surviving) which explains why people can’t turn away cookies, cakes, lasagna, french fries, hamburgers, deep-fried twinkies, etc. There is also research out there showing that humans innately love salt + fat, and salt + sugar (so salt + fat + sugar= a recipe for deliciousness coupled with overeating). This is probably the reason why I love a recipe my friend’s mom made for a dinner party- dark chocolate with dried fruit, pistachios, and Fleur de Sel (Flower of salt= French Sea Salt)- it has all three components. I think she learned how to make this at a William Sonoma cooking class, look it up- it’s always a classy dessert and crowd pleaser.

Again, back to mindful eating… Google “mindful eating” and you will come across dozens of websites and even institutes based on mindful eating. My simplified version of mindful eating encompasses the following principles:
  • Be conscious of what you are putting in your mouth
  • Realize that food is supposed to be nutritious. That is, you should only eat to derive necessary nutrients (fat, carb, protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.). Think of your body as a car, and food and drinks as fuel. You would never pour soda (ie: high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, and acid) into your gas tank, so why the heck would you put it in your body?
  • Food that is healthy and you like the taste of is out there, trust me. You just need to find it. Also, your taste buds adapt, so try eating a lower-sodium diet and you will find that things you once enjoyed  (eg: frozen pot pie meals) now taste too salty, same thing with sugar. Also, you will learn to really enjoy eating vegetables if you cook them right and eat them frequently. Anyone who says they don’t like vegetables just hasn’t had them made the right way.
  • Before you pick up that cookie or piece of candy, think: “Is this really going to make me feel better, or is it going to provide me with good nutrition?” The answer is probably no. In fact, after you eat it, you might even regret it and then feel worse than you did before you ate it. If you ask yourself this question before you reach for extra snacks or that second serving of mashed potatoes, you will no longer be “mindlessly eating”, you will now be “mindfully eating”! If you think about it, you’re now using your mind.
The point to this blog is to reinforce the fact that (hopefully) food will always be available to you and you will never need to binge for survival. Understand that eating’s primary job is to provide you with nutrition, but it should be enjoyable at the same time.

Be conscious of the food you are putting into your body and ask yourself these questions before you eat something:
1) Am I hungry or will I go several  hours without eating?
2) Is this food I’m about to eat going to provide me with proper nutrition?
3) Do I need to eat a lot of this food to obtain any benefits (eg: Eat a lot of veggies at one sitting to get your servings in for the day- a rare example of when eating a few servings may be okay)? 
4) Will eating this piece of junk food really make me happier and/or feel better than if I don’t eat it? Will I regret eating it after?
5) Do I eat to live or live to eat? How can I change my way of thinking?

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