Can mindful eating help solve our growing obesity problem?
With obesity rates on the rise, it is estimated that in the US, the obesity rate in the will be nearly 50% by the year 2030.
It’s true that the foods that we eat have changed over the years. We have more access to highly palatable, calorie dense, “Junk Food” than ever before. Our lifestyles have also become more sedentary over the years.
This combination of Increased Calorie Consumption + Physical Inactivity is the reason why the obesity rates have risen and are continuing to rise.
What if there’s more to this? In addition to the actual foods we eat, how we eat has also changed over the years.
In the past, people had to work hard to obtain food either by hunting or growing crops. This involved a lot of physical labor. Cooking methods were also a bit slower. We couldn’t just pull something out of the freezer and reheat it in the microwave.
As a result of all this, we valued and appreciated food a lot more.
Convenience Comes at a Cost
I’m all for convenience. As a busy person myself, I love the fact that I don’t have to spend hours every day preparing my food. I can focus this time and energy on more productive things.
All this convenience is not super-recent. In the US, this is the way for a few decades with the popularity of fast foods, drive-throughs and TV Dinners. In fact, did you know that hat about 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in a car?
What’s more recent is the ease at which we have access to a form of escapism. We have so many entertainment options available at our fingertips. Whether it’s surfing through social media, watching YouTube or even your favorite TV Show on Netflix.
So many people, including myself, are so engrossed in entertainment that we don’t even know what we’re eating anymore.
Food stimulates nearly all the senses including sight, smell, taste and sometimes even the sound of food being prepared can stimulate the senses. All of this seem to have becom e a thing of the past for a lot of people who live busy lives.
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What is Mindful Eating?
Are you mindful or is your mind full?
The word ‘Mindful’ Means that you are conscious or aware of something.
I you want to really want to be mindful, you have to be present in the moment. You cannot be distracted by a million other things.
The idea behind mindful eating is that by being aware of what, how much and how we eat, we can prevent overeating. This is because, if we’re not mindful, it is easy to over-consume calories these days. This is especially true if you’re eating calorie-dense foods.
For example, nuts are considered as being healthy for most people but they are also very calorie-dense. If you were to eat nuts while watching a movie, you can easily eat a few hundred calories worth of nuts and not even realize it.
I genuinely believe that the reason I was obese most of my life was that I was not mindful about what and how I ate.
I still recall my dad used to tell me to eat slowly and chew my food. I always had a bad habit of eating fast.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Generally, our bodies are quite good at regulating our hunger levels to match our energy needs. Because we are so distracted these days, our hunger signals don’t function the way they should. As a result, we end up overeating.
By the time we feel full, we would have already eaten more than we should have. This is usually followed by regret and guilt.
With mindfulness, we can prevent this.
Eating and drinking have always been a social activity for us. Whether it’s with our friends or family, having a great meal can be a great opportunity to bond with our close ones.
To get the most out of this experience, we actually have to be present in the moment.
Sitting down for a relaxing meal can really help you de-stress even from the most stressful days. If you’re into fitness, managing stress is one of the most important things you can do.
Whether you want to gain muscle & strength or you want to lose fat, you need to manage your stress levels.
Stress is a necessary part of life. Without stress, you cannot change your body. When we workout in the gym, it is a form of stress on the body. This stress helps us get stronger.
Our bodies have a limited capacity to recover from stress. Stress from all sources including your job, school, traffic, training etc. adds up.
If you have too much stress, this is not healthy and will prevent you from achieving your fitness goals.
Learn How to Manage Stress
We all have different goals with our bodyweight. Some people want to gain weight, others want to lose weight. Whatever your goal is, you have to be aware of calories and energy balance.
If you want to gain weight, you will have to be in a caloric surplus.
If you want to lose weight you will have to be in a caloric deficit.
If you are mindful of what you eat, you can eat for your goals accordingly.
Teaches mindfulness for other areas of life
Mindfulness seems like a forgotten art. We’re so used to multi-tasking and constantly stimulating our brains with different activities.
If we can learn how to mindful eating, this can carry over to other areas of our lives and help us be more present and focused on the task at hand.
If you want to be successful in today’s day and age, how you manage your focus is important. Whtever taks you choose to do, you have to you have to be a 100% present.
If you want to learn more about this concept, I highly recommend reading ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
Mindful Eating – 10 Ways to Stop Overeating
#1 Eat Slowly
We often blame fast food for the obesity epidemic. While fast food can be high in calories, it is also typically eaten fast.
The speed at which you eat affects how much you end up eating. There is a slight delay in your hunger signals. When we eat fast, by the time our hunger signals tell us that we’re full, we would have already consumed a lot more calories.
This is the reason why competitive eaters eat so fast. If they were to eat slowly and chew their food, they would not be able to nearly as much.
Make sure to chew your food slowly and enjoy the flavors of each bite.
Pay attention to your hunger signals during this time. Stop eating when you feel about 70% full. You don’t have to stuff yourself at every meal.
#2 Learn About Calories in Food
As a coach, my opinion is that everyone should be aware of how many calories they need and how many calories are in different foods.
I understand that counting calories is not for everyone but if you’re aware of which foods are high in calories and which one are lower in calories, you can be mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth.
If you want to lose weight, you can then make better choices by eating less of the high-calorie foods and replacing them with more low-calorie foods.
A simple google search will tell you how many calories a food has. Also. Learning how to read food nutrition labels is a useful skill.
Learn more about How Many Calories Do I need?
Macronutrients in Food
The food we eat consists of 3 Macronutrients: Protein Carbohydrates and Fats. It’s important to be aware of which foods provide your body with which macronutrients.
Nearly all foods will have a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, however, there is usually 1 nutrient that the food is abundant in.
Why is this important?
This is because different macronutrients have a different function in the body.
Protein is needed to build and maintain muscle mass and Lean Body Mass
Fats are needed to support the various hormonal functions and general health.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy, Most carbohydrate sources also supply the body with Fiber, Vitamins, and Minerals.
Good Sources of Protein:
Dairy – Whey, Casein, Greek Yogurt, Cottage Cheese
Eggs and Egg Whites
Poultry: Chicken, Turkey etc.
Lean cuts of Meat – Beef, Pork etc
Fish & Seafood
Vegan Sources: Beans, Lentils, Soy, Plant-Based Protein Powders, Meat Substitutes etc.
*Note: Milk is a good source of protein but it is also high in carbs and fat.
Vegan sources of Protein are also high in carbs
Good Sources of Fats
Nuts and Seeds – Almonds, Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Peanut Butter etc.
Oils – Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Fish Oil (Omega 3) etc.
Good Sources of Carbohydrates (also Fiber and Micronutrients)
Whole Grain Bread
Sweet Potatoes and Yams.
Beans and Lentils (also high in protein)
Now that you know which foods are good sources of Protein, Carbohydrates, and fats, you can make better choices and be mindful of what nutrients you’re getting from food.
#3 Keep a Food Diary
Research shows that people who kept a food diary/journal lost double the amount of weight compared to people who don’t.
A food diary has 2 benefits:
- Recording accurately. When you write things down, you are more likely to be accurate with your nutrition. If you don’t write it down, you are more likely to forget some items.
- Accountability: Keeping a food diary will keep you more accountable.This way you are less likely to overeat. Writing down something, whether it’s your goals or your nutrition, can increase your chances of actually following through with your plan.
I personally used to use a physical diary. I currently use the app: MyFitnessPal to track my nutrition.
Learn How To Use MyFitnessPal For Weight Loss
#4 Portion Control
Now that you understand the calories and macronutrients in foods, a simple way to stop overeating is to practice portion control. You don’t even have to change your diet drastically.
You can simply cut down on the size of your existing meals by about 10-20%.
If you feel like your meals are getting too small, you can replace some high-calorie foods with lower-calorie foods.
For example, if you can cut down your portion of starchy carbs with some non-starchy vegetables.
Fill your plate up according to your goals and don’t eat more than that if you don’t need to. If you’re still hungry, you can have an extra serving of vegetables.
#5 Avoid Watching TV/ Multitask While Eating
In this day and age, we are so used to multitasking that it has become second nature. Multi-tasking used to be considered as a skill but research shows that multitasking makes you less efficient and adds unnecessary stress.
One of the biggest cultural shifts over the past few decades has been the popularity of TVs and more recently social media.
If you eat while engaging in other activities, you are no longer practicing mindful eating. Avoid watching TV or browsing social media while you eat. If you try this for a few weeks, you should see a difference.
#6 Eat at a Dining Table
We have dining tables in homes for a reason/ Nearly all cultures have a dining area in their home because food plays an important role in our lives.
Most of us with busy lifestyles end up eating in our cars, standing, on the couch etc.
Sitting at a table with a purpose will make it easier to practice mindful eating.
#7 Enjoy some conversation with friends and family
Food has always been a social experience, When you sit at a dining table with friends and family, you not only get to spend quality time with them but you also end up eating slower and enjoying your meal more.
Memories are often linked to sights, sounds, smells, and taste. You have some great memories while eating and socializing at the same time. This is one type of multitasking that you can do and still be mindful.
Tip: Switch off your phone when you’re with friends and family.
#8 Drink Plenty of Water
This is a crucial step that most people don’t pay enough attention to. Often, we mistake thirst for hunger. This results in us overeating.
Make sure to have enough water throughout the day and before/during/after meals. This will help with over satiety and appetite control as well.
You can also enjoy calorie-free beverages such as diet sodas, coffee, tea etc. in moderation.
#9 Avoid Snacking Between Meals
Snacking can really make or break your diet. Some people’s diets may be very good when it comes to their meals but snacking can add a lot of unnecessary calories to your diet. This includes eating between meals or even late-night snacking.
Typical snack foods may be ‘light’ but they are also high in calories. They are not very filling and make you hungry soon after you eat them.
The solution is to eat at set meal times. For most people Having 3-5 meals a day is a good idea.
Make sure to have protein and some sort of fruit or vegetable with each meal. If you don’t have time to have a meal, you can simply have a protein shake as a meal.
#10 Learn How to Cook
Learning how to cook is a very underrated skill when it comes to improving your health and fitness. Most of us are used to eating foods that we have no idea how it was prepared. When you learn how to cook even the most basic meals, it teaches you so much about how to prepare great-tasting, healthy meals.
Most people assume that healthy food doesn’t taste very good and that any food that tastes good can’t be good for you.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
These are not mutually exclusive.
Also, if learn how to cook, you will appreciate your food more. This will automatically make you more mindful while eating.
Mindful Eating: Summary
It seems like mindful eating is an increasingly underappreciated aspect of our lives. Overeating + A Sedentary Lifestyle are to blame for the rising obesity epidemic around the world.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
- Prevents Overeating
- Social Experience
- Helps With Weight Management
- Reduces Stress
How to stop overeating with Mindful Eating
- Eat Slowly
- Be aware of Calories & Micronutrients
- Keep a Food Diary
- Portion Control
- Don’t Watch TV/Multitask while eating
- Eat at a dining table
- Spend time with friends and family
- Drink plenty of water. Stay Hydrated
- Avoid Snacking
- Learn how to cook
Have you tried any of these Mindful Eating Techniques?