Last Saturday, I purchased a lovely piece of chocolate. I carefully budgeted the calories for it. I knew that I could eat it without a speck of guilt, and I intended to just that. As the sun set, my husband and I sat, reading books on our Kindles in the dark on our boat.
I remembered the teat that awaited me. I went below to get my chocolate. I carefully divided it into small pieces to prevent me from eating it too quickly. I arranged them on a small plate along with some berries, and I returned to my reading.
As I read the thriller, I reached for a piece of chocolate and a berry. When the chocolate had melted in my mouth, I reached for another piece, and another. Before long, I reached for another piece of chocolate, only to find the plate was empty. I felt around on the bench seat where the plate sat empty, in case a piece or two had slid off unnoticed. When my tactile search turned up no chocolate, I reached for my iPhone to turn on the flashlight. I searched the bench and the floor, sure that there must still be 3-4 piece of missing chocolate. My search turned up nothing except some dead spiders that had escaped the vacuum.
As I resigned myself to the fact that the chocolate was truly gone, and that I had finished it, I was sad. I had eaten all of those decadent, highly anticipated morsels of good chocolate and had barely noticed it. Instead of being an enjoyable experience all on their own, they had merely melted into the background of the story I was engrossed in.
Mindless eating is one of the causes of our epidemic of obesity. From the time that our parents hand us a container of goldfish or cheerios to keep us quiet, we learn to consume food without even thinking about it.
Mike McIntyre of Cleveland’s WCPN aired a show this week on Mindful Eating. Dr. Susan Albers shared a five-point strategy to practice eating mindfully so that the food that we choose actually registers in our brain as having been consumed.
Albers shared the 5 Ss:
Sit down – Sitting down (preferably at a table – not your desk, the couch,or the car) makes eating more of a ritual. Removed from the influences that keep us from focusing on our meal, we are more likely to successfully practice mindful eating.
Slowly chew – You’ve heard it said that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. Many of today’s highly-processed foods are easy to swallow without chewing. Either they are soft, semi-liquid, or liquid like smoothies, pouches of applesauce, or macaroni and cheese, or they dissolve in our saliva as soon as they hit our mouth – like potato chips. By forcing ourselves to mindfully chew those foods rather than gulping them down, we can be more in the moment and eat mindfully.
Savor – When you eat mindfully, you can truly enjoy your food. I enjoyed the piece or two of chocolate that I remember eating. I savored them. Until I got into the book and began to consume them mindlessly, I really savored them. Had I not been expecting more pieces of chocolate because I failed to savor them all, I quite likely could have been satisfied with less.
Another piece of advice was to “eat like a chef.” Iron Chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon is famous for including bacon and fat in many of his dishes. Chef Symon is in great shape. Although he eats some decadent food, he doesn’t stuff himself with it. Many chefs eat just a bite or two of those spectacularly rich foods and walk away. Having savored that first bite, they can push themselves away from the table satisfied with the experience.
Simplify your environment – I overate last night. I’m usually very good about weighing and measuring virtually everything. Last night, however, I simply grabbed a bag of snacks and brought them to the computer room with me. As I took a handful of cashews, I promised myself it would be the last. Soon, however, I found my hand back in the bag.
Similarly, there is an open bag of potato chips left over from a meeting in my kitchen right now. As I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water, I spotted the chips and my mouth started watering. Although they weren’t in today’s plan, I weighed out exactly one ounce. Although an ounce of chips won’t make or break my diet, had I put the chips away, I wouldn’t have craved them at all.
If you’re going to have your trigger foods in the house at all, do yourself a favor and put them where they are out of sight!
Smile between each bite. Albers suggested that smiling between each bite gives you a pause – time to consider how full you are before you take that next bite. That pause also helps to extend meal time so that you experience satiety.
Mindless eating is a big problem for me. I’m going to put these suggestions into play as I learn to be more mindful about not just eating, but regarding life in general.