Do You Eat on Autopilot?

We all know the feeling of having arrived at a frequently visited destination and having little to no recollection of the drive there. Does this ever happen to you with food?

Do You Eat on Autopilot?

We all know the feeling of having arrived at a frequently visited destination and having little to no recollection of the drive there. Does this ever happen to you with food?

How many times have you looked down at your empty dinner plate and wondered where your mind was when you were eating your meal? Most of us live in a constant state of  “eating and…”: eating and watching television, eating and driving, eating and helping kids with homework, eating and completing a work assignment. When we engage in this “eating and…,” we are usually so absorbed in the other activity that we lose awareness of the eating experience completely. 

This “eating and…” is formally called mindless eating. Mindless eating is our culture’s faulty solution to increasing efficiency and saving time. However, we are paying a price for this multitasking. Research clearly shows that we eat more and make poorer food choices when we fail to take that 15 minutes and do nothing else besides eat.

There is a relatively easy antidote: mindful eating. Mindful eating is a set of strategies that helps people eat less, feel fuller, and experience greater satisfaction with their food.  These are particularly useful for those wanting to shed a few pounds and for people who struggle with binge eating or food addiction. Here’s how to get started:

Create an attractive and comfortable area designated only for eating. Set your table with accessories and dishes that make every meal feel like a special occasion. 

Turn off the television, drop the newspaper, shut down the cell phone and computer. For the next 15 minutes, your only task at hand is to enjoy your meal.

Before you start eating, take a moment to really look at your food and pause to feel some gratitude toward those who contributed to producing the meal you are about to enjoy.

Make a conscious decision about what item or section of your meal you’d like to consume first.

Take a bite of food onto a utensil, place the food in your mouth, and return the utensil to the table before you begin to chew.

Pay attention to various sensations you are experiencing with the food in your mouth.  Tune into the flavors, textures, temperatures and consistency. 

Try to resist the urge to swallow until the entire bite is completely chewed.

As you swallow, use your mind’s eye to follow the food down your esophagus and into your belly. Notice whether you feel one bite more nourished, one bite more powerful, one bite more energetic.

Before selecting your next bite, ask yourself if you are growing more satisfied. When you reach the point of feeling satisfied, make a conscious choice to stop eating, even if food remains on your plate.

Try these steps during your next meal, and pay attention to whether your experience of eating changes for the better. Sacrifice those few minutes saved during “eating and…,” and you’ll shrink your waistline, increase your appreciation of food, and enhance your awareness of what you choose to put in your body. 

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

Eating for Hunger

When hunger is your motive for eating, the question is: "Does your body know when you've had enough?" Well, if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes you may develop leptin resistance and your "I am full" hormone, leptin, can't do its job. The hormone's signal to your hypothalamus is dampened, and you keep eating.

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