National Nutrition Month 2016 – Mindful Eating

The month of March is National Nutrition Month from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This year’s theme is my favorite so far: Savor the Flavor of Eating Right. I quote from their website:

“The theme for 2016 is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” which encourages everyone to take time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food can add to our lives. How, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat. Develop a mindful eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods — that’s the best way to savor the flavor of eating right!”

I agree! It’s so common to devote all our energy to monitoring what we eat without taking time to think about how, when, why and where. This can cause disconnection from your body and your food, and you may start to feel like you are living inside your own head. This type of relationship with food can feel worrisome and anxious, and cause you to second-guess all your food decisions.

While I fully support making nutritious food selections, I also believe that health and wellness is multi-factorial. Feeling psychological satisfaction from food and life experiences is also very necessary. Often individuals run scared from feeling satisfaction from food, given they equate satisfaction with weight gain and/or feeling out of control with food. We actually see the opposite happening; satisfaction is key to avoiding overeating and can prevent disordered eating patterns that may upset natural metabolic function which may lead to unnecessary weight gain.

Essentially, it behooves all of us to find balance between the desire and need to feel pleasure and satisfaction from food as well as the body’s need for nourishment from wholesome foods. If you’ve been a guest at the Resort, I encourage you to review the principles of Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density as a basic nutrition guide for what to eat, focusing on overall dietary patterns rather than getting nitpicky.

As for the rest:

How: Slow down! For true psychological and physiological satisfaction, it’s important to realize you are eating. I encourage you to approach meals with intention and connection, to avoid distractions that often lead to overeating. As you eat, focus on your attention on the food. If you find your mind wandering to responsibilities, work or judgements about the food, gently bring your attention back to how to the food tastes, smells, feels, looks and sounds (if applicable). This can also allow you to check in with hunger and fullness levels.

When: Are you eating often enough? Every body process functions best when given consistent and regular nutrition. It’s easy to forget, lose track of time or avoid eating. Stress actually suppresses hunger signals, so a busy work day can leave you exhausted and ravenous once you finally slow down. I encourage you to eat every 3-4 hours, using snacks between meals to keep your brain and body well-fueled. A body that feels well taken care of is one with an effectively functioning metabolism.

Why: I actually often encourage food journals to help people become more aware of why they are eating. I’m not one to encourage people to write down everything they eat or count calories, but I do find journals helpful for increasing awareness. Are you physically hungry? Has it been 3-4 hours since you last had something to eat? Why do you feel the urge to grab something? Is it emotional hunger? Pausing to check in can be empowering, and can make the difference between functioning on autopilot vs being proactive in meeting your true needs.

Where: Are you eating in the car? At your desk? While answering emails? Over the sink? While it’s probably not realistic to expect yourself to sit down with zero distractions for every meal, I would encourage you to take every opportunity to make your meal time a separate event from work. I KNOW you will find greater self-trust and eating competence as you truly allow yourself to just eat.

Mindful Eating has real potential to create positive experience with food, which will increase self-trust and decrease fear. For those who struggle with overeating, food anxiety, or physical symptoms of irregular food patterns, I assure you there are real answers here!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD