Are We Mindful Eaters?
To answer that question briefly, no. Many Americans go about their day mindlessly eating. Without thinking, one might grab candy out of the dishes of her co-worker and then consume it while reading emails. Another may eat dinner in front of the television and not really taste her food. And yet another may consume hundreds of calories while snacking at a party. She may not realize this because she is socializing and not really paying attention to what she is eating or how it tastes. Many Americans also tend to consume far more calories than we need because of the sheer size of the plates that we eat off of. The bigger the plate, the more food people serve. Every day I have patients tell me that it is “impossible” for them to lose weight. When I review their food journal I see that many take in a pretty healthy diet but when I see their “miscellaneous extras” intake (handful of candy from co-worker’s desk + with spoonful of ice cream from container + remaining fries from their child’s meal) I realize that they could easily lose weight if they cut out some of these mindless eating habits. Cutting out ~100 calories a day can help lead to 10 pounds of weight loss in one year.
The Center for Mindful Eating has constructed a definition of what they consider as eating mindfully:
- 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.
- Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
- Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
- Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Being more in tune during meal times and slowing down the pace of the meal can really help improve how satisfied you feel after you eat. I urge my patients to really focus on the food’s flavor and texture. I tell them to try to use all of their senses at a meal for maximum meal enjoyment.
The food’s presentation may also factor into how many calories we consume. One study showed that people will consume ~76% more juice poured into a short, wide glass vs. a tall, narrow glass. The study called this the “vertical-horizontal illusion”: we often focus on heights before widths. So, people often over pour more juice into a shorter/wider glass because it does not look like very much and pour less into a taller glass. The same thing can be said about plate size. A single serving of pasta looks very small on a big plate so we tend to scoop out more than we would if we had used a smaller plate.
Weight loss does not have to be “impossible” if you implement a few dietary changes and pay more attention to the taste/smell/texture of what you are eating. You can shed pounds if you become more knowledgeable about serving sizes and how much food you are actually eating. Weight loss can be attainable with a slower paced meal and with the awareness of many mindless times you may pop food into your mouth throughout the day.