Mindful Eating: An Experiment

Posted by Brittany Reese on July 12, 2017
Follow-Up – What I’ve Learned

It has been a few weeks since I started my experiment with mindful eating. In that time, I’ve gone on vacation with friends, had multiple visitors to my home, and done lots of other summer activities. It has been a fun and enjoyable summer. And I must say, not having to painstakingly count every calorie that I’ve consumed has helped me enjoy a certain type of freedom. A freedom from placing blame or feeling bad about eating certain foods.

I have always struggled with my weight and what I should/shouldn’t eat has been in the forefront of my mind for most of my teenage years and beyond. Some of those thoughts I have turned into a positive by pursuing a career in health, nutrition and fitness. And while calorie counting has served me well in the past, I’ve recently found that I no longer felt it benefited me to do so. This freedom has helped me to get in better touch with how I felt about food and how much I was consuming.

Through this time, I’ve discovered that if I pay attention to what I’m eating and give it my full attention instead of distracting myself, I am full much faster and feel much better after eating than before. Previously I may have felt guilty after eating dessert or another “treat” item, but now I make a purposeful decision to eat that piece of cake or chocolate and afterwards do not feel guilty about eating a “bad” food. While eating my dessert or treat I still practice mindfulness by listening to my body to determine how much to eat and determine if continuing to eat the food is something that I want.

Another side effect of this has been that I’ve had a better handle on the acid reflux/indigestion that I started experiencing a few months ago. I’ve identified the triggers and avoid them whenever possible and if they are not avoidable, prepare for the side effects of eating these foods. This has helped me feel much better and gives me a sense of control since I now know which foods can potentially make me feel less than stellar.

Finally, a result of my experiment that I didn’t expect was that I noticed how much I was distracting myself with technology. Technology is wonderful and has many uses (such as this blog!). But it can take our attention away during times when we should be most attention such as family & friend time and eating. Although I still believe I can decrease how much screen time I have during my day, it has been refreshing to take a step back and recognize that this is an area of my life that I could improve. And I’m sure most people would agree with me!

I hope you have enjoyed following my mindful eating journey. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Update – August 1, 2017

This week was dominated by an upcoming event and how best to prepare for it. In the past, preparing for an event where there was going to be a lot of food that is less than ideal or “unhealthy” meant I would try to work out more than usual and watch my intake the preceding week and painstakingly attempt to count how many calories were in a non-standard food item. But, given my Mindful Challenge, I wanted to approach special events such as this differently.

Some backstory for you. This week I attended my hometown’s annual community fair. “The Fair” is something that I always looked forward to every summer — there’s lots of delicious food, traditional carnival rides and games but it meant the ending of summer and the beginning of another school year as a child. As an adult, it has always been an event with lots of nostalgia and fond memories. I make sure to return to my hometown for just a few days during the fair to get my fill of carnival games and food I’m only able to get once a year.

This year I decided to approach it differently. Instead of “punishing” myself I wanted to enjoy myself and decrease or eliminate any guilt I may normally have surrounding less than ideal food. I know it may come as a shock but I don’t just eat quinoa and kale all the time. I of course love fruits and vegetables and mostly eat foods that are both enjoyable and nutritionally dense but some of my favorite foods aren’t – namely French fries, donuts and cheesecake. During the fair there are some foods that are the typical carnival foods, such as cotton candy and funnel cakes, but what I always crave are the foods that I can’t get any other time of the year. The foods stands at our community fair are run by organizations located in our town and surrounding area. Each offers something unique and while most of the food is commonplace, the food is different in subtle ways or special just because of where it’s located. So, this year instead of feeling guilty for getting that basket of fries or eating two hoagies in one 24 hour period I decided to apply some of the skills I’ve learned in the past few weeks to my visit to the fair.

My Plan:  I surveyed the options, which are generally all the same but some stands branched out or changed this year. Then I made my decision about what I wanted to eat. I ate my standard hoagie from a stand that is run by the church I was raised in and the best French fries available outside of the ones my dad cooks for us at home. I again eliminated outside distractions such as my phone and focused on my satiety cues.

The Result: I thoroughly enjoyed each bite.  I ate until I was full and saved whatever was left for a later time. In years past I would stuff myself to the point of being uncomfortable just because I was worried I wouldn’t get enough of my favorite things. I saved the food that I still wanted to enjoy but was simply too full to genuinely enjoy. This helped me feel better, no blood sugar spikes/crashes, and enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I didn’t concern myself with how many calories I had just consumed or if the scale will show that I’ve gained weight come Monday. Perhaps I did gain some weight, I’m not sure because I haven’t stepped on the scale yet and I don’t plan to. Consuming the food I did over the weekend didn’t mean that “I fell off the wagon” and that I needed to “get back on track.” It meant that I made a conscious decision to indulge in some of my favorite foods but I still listened to my body and stopped whenever I felt I had my fill. I don’t feel guilty or the need to work out additionally unless I feel as though my body is ready to be pushed.

And for me, that’s a win. No matter what the scale says. Afterwards I went to the dime game (you attempt to win a drinking glass by throwing a dime inside of it) and won myself some drinking glasses — a happy end to my nostalgia-filled weekend!

Update after One Week

It has been about a week since I started my experiment. To prepare for this I took a few steps before I got started.

  1. Distracted Eating: I took notice to how much I eat in front of the TV, phone, reading, or just staring off into space. This one took me by surprise. One of the first things you are told when you are attempting to lose weight or eat healthier is to stop eating in front of the TV. After years of living alone and not having a true dining room, I was so used to eating in front of the TV or while scrolling through various things on my phone that I didn’t realize how much I was doing it! To help combat this habit, I made sure the dining room table that I now have was cleaned off, had a pretty table cloth over it, and was ready whenever I wanted to eat. After I realized I was on my phone much more during meals than I had realized, I gave this habit up as well. This was harder to do since I do tend to reach for my phone to scroll through social media, answer emails, or just watch Netflix on my phone when I’m not around my TV. I was surprised at how dependent I had become on these distractions while I ate. The first few times I went without these devices I felt a little lost. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do and honestly felt a little bored when I was eating by myself. But, after a few tries and hiding my phone from myself during meals, I began to get used to paying attention to my food and my body’s satiety signals instead of what was playing on a device.
  2. Preparation: As I mentioned, I made sure I had an eating space that I could use that was free from distractions. I also made sure to keep my cell phone out of sight so it was out of mind. As well as helping me to eat with fewer distractions, it also helped me to be more mindful of how much I was using my phone throughout the day and distracting myself. I think we all could use a little less screen time – especially when we are home and can spend time with loved ones. I also deleted all apps that allowed me to track my food, so as to eliminate any temptation I might have had to “wonder” how many calories I had eaten in a given day.
  3. Research: I looked online at The Center for Mindful Eating’s website to get tips of what exactly it means to eat mindfully. This post could be very long if I went into each item on their website, so I encourage you to do some reading – visit https://thecenterformindfuleating.org

Takeaways:

  1. Being mindful of how much I’ve eaten and my body’s satiety cues are much easier when I’m not engrossed with a TV show or social media.
  2. Sometimes I would forget about my experiment and simply fall back into old habits. This is okay! When I realized, I would change my environment and reset myself.
  3. Preparation is a key component to success.
  4. When I pay attention to my body’s satiety cues, I don’t feel overstuffed or uncomfortable after eating.
My Plan – July 11, 2017

Mindful Eating is something we have discussed in this blog before (read Deborah Brooks’s blog post on Mindful Eating) and our resident expert, Deborah Brooks, has taught several classes on the subject.

I learned about this technique during my studies and if asked, I could rattle off the benefits of this method of weight management, but I can’t say I’ve ever tried to mindfully eat outside of a classroom setting.

 

What exactly is mindful eating? According to The Center for Mindful Eating, “Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating, you can change your relationship to food.”

Recently, I’ve been wondering what benefits of Mindful Eating I would be able to experience if applied to my life. My policy concerning different diets and eating philosophies is to try it myself, so when I speak about it to a client I can have real world experience to share with them as well as all the available information and research on a given subject.

Other than for professional reasons, why else try this new philosophy surrounding weight management? Well, I’ve lost weight a few times and always employed the calorie counting method where I would track every morsel of food that entered my mouth and every workout completed. It worked great for me in the past.

But lately, I haven’t wanted to do this method to lose or maintain my weight. I find myself more and more not wanting to record everything I eat and calories counting isn’t working for me in my current lifestyle. I am looking for a different way to maintain my weight and I want whatever method of weight management or weight loss to be able to happen for the rest of my life.

That’s where Mindful Eating comes into play. I am curious if I stopped counting calories and recording everything if my weight would change-either positively or negatively. Obviously if I ate with reckless abandon I would probably end up gaining weight but being mindful about what and how much I eat just might be the lifestyle habit that can help me to maintain my current weight and possibly other areas of my life.

So, after doing some research on my own I have decided to do just that – employ Mindful Eating techniques to my life and see what happens. Throughout the next month I will post updates on how everything is going and what exactly I’ve learned throughout this experience. I invite you to please follow along with my journey and perhaps learn how this technique can be applied to you and your families lives.

Brittany Reese is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, group exercise instructor and food lover. Do you have questions or comments? Fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you very soon.

    Click all the apply

Related Posts

Fun Facts about the Jewish High Holidays

It's a special time of year, a time to "Start Fresh." To help you prepare, we put together an infographic -- kind of a "fresh" take with interesting ...
read more

Shabbat is The First Labor Law

I was struck by this Samuel Rosenberg Image entitled 'Rest' in the spring when Melissa Hiller, Director of our ...
read more

9 Things for Kids and Families to do at the JCC

To be honest, there are many, many more things for kids of all ages to do at the JCC! We just wanted to highlight a few things you may not have known....
read more

The March on Washington - 54 Years Later in PGH

We are living in very challenging times.  Protesters, advocates, and politicians are trying to spin our moral compasses in such a way so that we have...
read more