Operation G.I.T.: Mindfulness in Eating

First I have to talk about how I got on this topic in the first place.  Yesterday, I saw someone tweet a link to this article about The Business 9 Women Kept A Secret For 3 Decades.  Go ahead, read it.  It’ll make you feel good.  It did me.  I was so enamored by the idea, and by a website that actively reports GOOD NEWS every day (I stopped following actual news years ago because it was all bad and depressing and I couldn’t do squat about any of it, so why should I ruin my day?) that I signed up for their daily email.  A daily dose of Good?  Yes please.

So I signed up.  Went and read today’s post, which was a really fascinating look at a former mayor of Bogota who believes in designing cities for the happiness of people.  Dude has some really kick ass ideas.  And anyway I started wandering around the site, seeing what else they had on offer, and I hit on this article about Better Eating Through Mindfulness.  I immediately clicked on it because this is something that Susan and I have talked about a lot, both through her own efforts at being more mindful about food (which has dropped her forty pounds over the last few years), and while I worked my way through The Zen of Eating, which she’d sent me (really need to finish reading that).

Americans are AWFUL about being mindful about eating.  Everything we do is on the go or multitasking such that paying attention what we are eating is not at all a priority.  And as it turns out, this is more of a problem than just eating too much because we’re not paying attention.

According to Stephanie Vangsness, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital

It turns out that when our mind is tuned out during mealtime, the digestive process may be 30% to 40% less effective. This can contribute to digestive distress, such as gas, bloating and bowel irregularities.

Gas and bloating aside, overeating and obesity are perhaps the most significant health problems caused, at least in part, by mindless eating. The mind-body connection plays a pivotal role in our ability to accurately assess hunger and fullness.

While the precise mechanisms of hunger and fullness are not completely understood, we do know that the brain and central nervous system receive signals from the body when food is desired or needed. These signals can be caused by many triggers, including psychological states such as our mood. Once eating is under way, the brain has a key role to send out a signal when fullness is approaching. If the mind is “multi-tasking” during eating, critical signals that regulate food intake may not be received by the brain. If the brain does not receive certain messages that occur during eating, such as sensation of taste and satisfaction, it may fail to register the event as “eating”. This scenario can lead to the brain’s continuing to send out additional signals of hunger, increasing the risk of overeating. (Emphasis mine)

As someone who spends a great deal of the time HUNGRY, this really hit home with me.  Because, frankly, as a 5’4″ woman, I should not be able to out eat a man twice my size, no matter how active I am on a regular basis.  I mean, I generally don’t all the time because I monitor my calories and such, and I focus very heavily on fruits and veggies and nutrient rich, low calorie foods, but I CAN.  Easily.

Without necessarily having this name to apply to the practice, mindfulness with eating is something I’ve flirted with off and on since college, all because of my time in Paris.  See, the French totally practice mindfulness when it comes to eating.  They don’t call it that–it’s a wholly secular, cultural thing in that country.  Meals are an event.  The focus is purely on the food and good company.  There is no multi-tasking, no eating standing up, no watching TV or messing on the computer.  You eat, you enjoy, you taste, and you savor.  It’s something that’s discussed in French Women Don’t Get Fatand I experienced it first hand.

I lived in Paris for a month between my junior and senior years of college.  Just 4 short weeks.  And while I was there I lost fifteen pounds.  I didn’t change anything about WHAT I ate.  I didn’t deprive myself of anything.  I enjoyed fresh bread, cheeses, sausages and produce almost daily.  I ate all the fabulous desserts and was a regular at the patisserie around the corner from where I lived.  And yeah, I did walk everywhere, but, y’all, FIFTEEN POUNDS.  IN A MONTH.  And I know that mindfulness was a big part of that.

It’s a practice that I tried and utterly failed to maintain once I came home.  And my weight crept up 20-30 pounds over the decade since.  Because I routinely multitask.  I eat breakfast and lunch at my computer while checking email and chatting with friends or trying to write a couple hundred words.  I eat dinner while watching TV with my hubs, because he works until 7 and by the time he’s home, we’ve walked the dogs, and sat down to eat, it’s already 8 o’clock, and if we want to watch any TV together, we do it then.  I get 1 show and then I’m off to get ready for bed (I’ve gotten over this making me feel old and just accepted that I need more sleep if I’m to function well).  This simply is not a good practice, y’all.

I can’t change everything or suddenly become less busy or change hubby’s work hours.  But these are the changes I can make:

  • Breakfast.  I can start eating it at the table, away from the computer.  It’s not going to change my morning that much.  Breakfast is just scrambled Egg Beaters, a slice of multigrain toast, and tea, so it doesn’t take me a super long time to eat it.  But I can actually TAKE time to eat it, so that I taste it and recognize that I’ve eaten.  I actually DO do this with my tea.  And it’s that slow, ease into the morning ritual that I look forward to rather than the actual caffeine.
  • Lunch.  Again, I can eat at the table instead of at the computer and actually pause to taste whatever I’m eating for lunch, whether it’s soup or pasta salad or whatever it is I’ve fixed.  Since I’ve re-incorporated lunchtime workouts, I’m really not getting anything written during lunch anyway, so I might as well spend 20 minutes eating without distraction.
  • Dinners on nights hubby isn’t working late.  We can start eating them at the table and really focusing on the food.  Since weekends are usually when I do a lot of my experimenting for the food blog, this should work out pretty well.

I’m not expecting this to result in some kind of hugely dramatic weight loss (though wouldn’t that be awesome?), but it’s another step in general toward mindful living and quieting my mind, which is good for both stress and my ability to write.

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7 comments

  1. See, this is what I’ve been trying to do. My whole thing about quality, not quantity is about savoring your food, enjoying it, and not having to eat as much to be satisfied. Eating slowly is important for this, and I’m bad about not slowing down. I do so much better when I’m aware of what I’m eating and how it tastes.

  2. Thanks so much for the good news link. It’s fabulous! Have been much more mindful in my eating these last two years and it has made all the difference in my health and weight loss.

    Karen

  3. I teach and promote mindful eating, Kait, and can assure you that it’s one of the best things most people can probably do diet and wellness-wise. It also promotes emotional well-being, better sleep, a sense of gratitude—the list goes on… And seriously, antacids would be WAY less popular if people ate with more awareness. 😉 My hat goes way off to you. Good luck!

  4. I was eating dinner as I read this and something that popped into my head (other then I’m going to multitask myself to death) is that I am hiding from what I’m eating by always doing something else while I eat, like if I’m not paying attention I’m not responsible for what I eat. Thanks for making me think about this.

  5. I’m horrible at doing this. I eat in front of the computer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I also realize that I eat more than I should, not because I’m hungry, but because it tastes good. Part of that is because I don’t pay attention to it the first time around, so I go for the second helping. This is something I should definitely change. Thanks for writing this great post.

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