Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. It is an ancient concept that has been proven to be beneficial for many modern challenges, including eating issues. Understanding your personal eating pattern is a powerful first step toward meaningful transformation in both your personal and everyday life. Focusing on the information available to you right now allows you to make appropriate self-care decisions—like ordering a sandwich with all the decisions that go along with it. Admittedly, it isn’t always this easy. Paying attention requires practice. Many people have learned to disconnect and ignore what they’re experiencing right now. It’s common to “check out” rather than notice physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions. You may habitually distract yourself with TV, work, food, emotion, and stress, even your own thoughts. You may be preoccupied with memories of the past (I should have…) or fantasies about the future (What if…), or unconsciously responding to triggers you learned years earlier.
The food industry has spent trillions of dollars over the years to influence the way we think about and consume food. Here are some classic examples of how the food industries marketing efforts has quite literally changed the way you think about food decisions you make everyday of your life. Companies put short ads in bold lettering on the covers of their packages to make you focus on the 1 or 2 great benefits of their products knowing most people are not going to read the full label to understand the total nutritional impact of the food. For example, the product will say FAT FREE Muffins. When a food label says FAT FREE–run because almost all FAT FREE products have taken the fat out and replaced it with sugar. While I am on the topic of sugar the name Aspartame has come to be known as one of the single worst legal artificial sweeteners. They changed the name to Amino sweet to create more confusion among consumers.
Another classic trick is to promote the low or no sugar content of the product only to substitute sugar alcohol instead, which is not technically counted as a sugar. Sugar alcohol does break down slower in the body so the best rule of thumb is to divide total sugar alcohol numbers by 2 to get an approximation of the amount of sugar you are consuming. How do we use this in our real lives: Understand that when a company is aggressively promoting 1 item, they are trying to fool you into getting your mind to focus elsewhere. Take the time to read the label and assess the quality of the product. Here are few items to look for on the label. Never buy a product because of what is advertised on the front of the product label. A 12-ounce Mott’s apple juice can say made with real fruit juice but if you look at a label you would see it has 40 grams of sugar (4g = 1 tsp.). Therefore, a Motts apple juice has 10 tsp. of sugar. Yikes!
- Amount of Sat Fat: anything > 5 is too much.
- Total Carbohydrates are calculated by subtracting the fiber.
- Always check # of servings.
- Avoid any product with Aspartame, aka Amino sweet.
Avoid giant bags of chips, cookies popcorn etc. Food companies know you and I are greatly influenced by the size of the bag we eat from. From fast food chains super sizing meals to your local theatre that sells a “small” bag of popcorn that is still equal to 4-6 bowls of popcorn at home. In an experiment held 4 years ago at a local movie theater, moviegoers were given 2-day-old stale popcorn in large bags for free. The popcorn was so bad that 1 customer actually asked for her money back forgetting that she did not pay for it. The main point was that after the movie was over the bags of popcorn were checked to see the total amount eaten. The average person had eaten over 75% of the large bucket equivalent to 7-quart size bags. Our brains have been wired to stop when the food is gone as well as the fact that we will continue to eat large quantities of food when our mind is focused on something else. So how can we apply this concept to our everyday lives? Stop eating while you are doing mindless activities like watching TV. Pre-define the amount of food you are going to eat at one meal and then stop. A great example would be snacking on nuts or potato chips. In the case of the nuts, put a handful of nuts in Ziploc bags and use them when snacking, but stop when the bag is finished. When indulging in a dessert that you know is not good for you cut off a section of the cake, pie, cookie, etc. and know that when you have finished that section, dessert time is over.
An experiment was conducted where a bowl of candy was placed on 100 secretary’s desks in order to monitor their weekly consumption. After 1 week, total consumption averaged 4.8 pieces per day for each secretary. In week two, the bowl of candy was moved 3 feet behind each secretary’s desk which resulted in the average number of candies consumed dropping to 2.3 pieces of candy a week. In the third and final week, the candy was placed 10 feet behind each secretary’s desk in a filing cabinet, which resulted .6 pieces of candy being consumed. The take away lesson here is easy. When given easy access to healthy food or unhealthy candy, we all tend to consume significantly more. I always laugh when people tell me the cookies, popcorn, ice cream they have in their grocery cart is “for the kids”. All kids consume junk and drink pop or sugary beverages outside the house so control the number of unhealthy foods you have in your home. Cookies, pop tarts, white bread, ice cream, and processed sugar products are not well-deserved treats for your kids. This allows your children to get addicted early in life that very often results in decades of unneeded pain and suffering that is a direct result of being overweight. The American Obesity association found that 48 percent of children with overweight parents became overweight, compared with 13 percent of those with normal-weight parents. The connection between overweight parents and overweight children is likely due to a combination of genetics and family environmental influences.
Researchers measured the amount eaten by 379 participants; half were served with a particularly large bowl or plate of food. The participants that were given the extra-large servings ate an average of 31% more food than the control participants. But crucially, just 8% of them said afterwards that they thought they hadn’t eaten any more than they usually do. When told they’d been given an extra-large portion, 21% continued to deny they’d eaten any more than usual, and of those who accepted that they had eaten more than usual, only 4% attributed this to the large plate or bowl their food had come in, with most others saying they’d eaten so much because they were hungry. “This hesitancy to acknowledge one being influenced by an external cue is common and has even been found when people are presented with tangible evidence of their bias”, the researchers said. Greater awareness of the food decisions we make and the factors influencing them could be good for our health.
Test time! Make changes to the following order I placed with my kids today at Jersey Mike’s: Regular size roast beef on white bread with cheese and everything on it which included oil, mayo, pickle, onion, lettuce, tomato and red peppers. Another way to order the exact same sandwich would be to say:
Small double meat turkey, skinny (scoop out the extra bread), 1 piece of cheese, and toppings of oil, pickle, onion, lettuce, tomato and red pepper. The double meat means the sandwich has the exact same amount of protein as the regular size. This is what helps keep me feeling full. Then I ordered turkey instead of roast beef, which has less fat. The amount of bread has been more than cut in half. I eliminated 2 pieces of cheese. This is one meal and yet I am making almost 13 decisions to construct the sandwich. Now multiple that by 7 days a week 52 weeks a year and those decisions will most likely add up to not putting on 7-9 pounds. That’s just for 1 meal a day! Be mindful of how you eat and what you order and you will greatly impact your health. This is not a difficult game. Be aware of every decision you make today and begin to realize why working out is trivial compared to what you put in your mouth everyday. Our weight has an enormous influence on our self-confidence, mood, energy, and sleep patterns, which in turn greatly affects the relationships we are in, our ability to be great parents, or to perform optimally at work. This, in turn, affects the children we bring up, the quality of our daily lives, and our overall happiness. So do yourself, your kids, your spouse, and everyone you come in contact with on a daily basis a favor and commit to changing your dietary habits or starting a diet and you will be rewarded for your effort everyday for the rest of your life. This has never been about how you look in your jeans this has always been about the quality of your everyday life!
In Good Health,