National Nutrition Month 2016 - Savor the Flavor Part 2

In case you missed it, here is Part 1.

This year’s National Nutrition Month message encourages mindful eating as part of "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right".  Some of my fellow nutrition colleagues have expressed concern over the use of the term “eating right”, given that it’s not quantifiable and possibly encourages the diet mentality.  I can understand that, and I do hope that my blog posts on the subject of Mindful Eating and this year’s theme are taken as intended - a way to help you build a positive and healthy relationship with food.

I would like to continue the discussion on how to “Savor the Flavor” and mindful eating. 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.  

I also believe that health and wellness is multi-factorial.  Feeling psychological satisfaction from food (and other life experiences) is 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 help prevent disordered eating patterns.

While I fully support making nutritious food selections, I actually find that emphasizing weight and nutrition can often prevent truly making peace with food. I STRONGLY encourage you to put weight and nutrition on the back burner, and focus instead on connecting with your body and it's needs.  I wholeheartedly believe that the body is built to self-moderate food choices.  When you focus less on what you eat and more on how you interact with whatever you choose, the actual food selections usually take care of themselves.  A balanced approach to food is a natural consequence of satisfying, positive mindful eating practices.  

With less emphasis on what you eat, let’s look at some general recommendations for the rest:

How:  Slow down!  For true psychological and physiological satisfaction, it’s important to realize you are eating.  Savor the Flavor! 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 (metabolism being every body process that keeps you alive and thriving - not just what regulates weight).  

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 (which can be done with or without a journal, you decide what’s actually effective and helpful).   

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 experiences with food, which will increase self-trust and decrease fear.  For those who struggle with overeating, undereating, food anxiety, or physical symptoms of irregular food patterns, I assure you there are real answers here!  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD