Try It Tuesday: Outsmarting Mindless Eating

It seems like everyday life is moving faster and faster. We need to do more, travel farther and sleep less. So in this hectic life we live, when can we eat? While we’re commuting? At our desk while doing work? While catching up on our favorite TV show? All of the above? It seems that the opportunity to sit down and just eat comes rarely in our daily lives, and this is influencing our health.

I’ll be honest, I live alone so most everything happens on my bed—sleeping, watching tv, doing homework, and of course eating. Sometimes these things occur simultaneously and I find myself in the midst of a patient case study, most likely eating something of the cheese variety, also trying to watch Netflix and occasionally dozing off. At this point I can’t help but to ask myself: Am I actually hungry? Can I even enjoy the food I am eating? Did I really need to eat half a block of cheese for a snack?

To combat this, I decided to give mindful eating a try! Research shows that mindful eating is associated with smaller portion sizes and consumption of fewer total calories. Additionally, it can reduce eating due to emotions and external eating cues.

But what exactly does it mean to eat mindfully? I decided that my mindful eating would consist of: 

  • Attentiveness to eating: When eating, I will only be eating. No phones, laptops, televisions, books, etc. (Friends are allowed!)
  • Awareness of hunger: I will evaluate my hunger level before and after eating using "eat-mojis."
  • Sense evaluation: I will use all my senses as I eat to evaluate and experience the food.

With these criteria, I set out for a day of mindful eating.

My Day of Mindful Eating

7:15 a.m. Breakfast

Hunger level: Slightly hungry
I enjoy a warm, gooey egg, cheese, avocado and mayo sandwich alone at my kitchen table. This is my favorite food to start the morning because it’s what my mom would make me before school. These happy memories help me savor my breakfast even more. Assessing my food, I make a mental note to add spices to my egg tomorrow and to pack a banana in case I need a snack later.
Hunger level: Satisfied

10:15 a.m. Snack

Hunger level: Slightly hungry
My mental note is unsuccessful. I forgot my banana but I did pack a strawberry yogurt parfait. I eat it at my desk but make sure to close all my work and take in the smell, texture and taste of my snack. Definitely like mango better than strawberry, and I need to find a way to keep my granola a little crunchier instead of soggy. I am proud of myself for managing my hunger level so well thus far.
Hunger level: Satisfied

12:20 p.m. Lunch at a nearby restaurant with Alyssa

Hunger level: Neither hungry nor full
We have been waiting all week to try a new restaurant near our office. I choose a veggie patty, cabbage & soba noodles and quinoa, despite the fact that I am honestly not hungry. The taste of all the food was incredibly delicious! However, the lack of AC in the restaurant combined with the over 90° day made it difficult to focus on the food. I end up a little too full, wishing I would have planned ahead better.
Hunger level: A little too full

3:00 p.m. Office Ice Cream

Hunger level: Neither hungry nor full
Vanilla ice cream topped with peanuts, strawberry syrup and whipped cream. YUM!! Who can’t use a little ice cream on a Friday?
Hunger level: Satisfied

6:00 p.m. The Desperate Snack

Hunger level: Very Hungry, Hangry
I am originally from a small town in Virginia, that’s about a 2:15 hour drive, almost 3 hours with traffic. Today’s my first trip home since beginning my internship, and I can’t wait to see my mom. I decide to wait until I get home to eat any substantial dinner. Even so, hangry driving and 30 mph Beltway traffic don’t mix well. Before I leave the driveway, I quickly eat a white chocolate energy bar in my car. Conflict avoided.
Hunger level: Neither hungry nor full

9:00 p.m. Dinner #1?

Hunger level: Neither hungry nor full
I finally arrive home. My mom is at the town’s annual carnival, where I am going to meet her, but she mentioned she had some tortellini for me. I search the kitchen, finally finding it still warm in the oven. I quickly put some in a bowl and eat it within two minutes. I wasn’t really hungry. I should’ve waited, but I didn’t know how long we would be at the carnival.
Hunger level: Satisfied

10 p.m. Dinner #2?

Hunger level: Neither hungry nor full
My mom and I both have a weakness for funnel cake, so we had to bring one home from the carnival. We split the funnel cake. I decide I want a glass of wine and, of course, I need some cheese to go with it. I could eat cheese for ages, but I make myself consider whether I actually needed more food. I cut myself a few slices, then proudly put the cheese away while I am satisfied but not too full.
Hunger level: Satisfied

What I Learned

Mindful Eating is a Process. After my first day of trying mindful eating, I decided I wanted to try it again because I thought I could be better at it. The day that I tried it was abnormal because of my trip home, so I wanted to try it during the week. Day after day I tried to have a full day of mindful eating, where I ate only when I was hungry and was never distracted. A week later, mindful eating perfection still seems to be far away. Nonetheless, my efforts have not been a failure. I have noticed a difference in my awareness about what I eat, especially how much I eat. Mindfulness is a process that I will have to continue to practice, not necessarily something I can be perfect at.

Flavor Matters. With an increased awareness of my foods, I realized a lack of flavor in a lot of what I was eating. I love my morning egg sandwich, but it lacked flavor even when it had salt and pepper. I had some fresh dill left over from a recipe, so I started putting that in my eggs. It made such a difference!

I Have Been Eating Too Much. Ever since I began thinking about my hunger to decide if/what I should eat, I have eaten much less. I will pack a full day's worth of food to take to the office and come home with almost half of it. This is good news for my waistline and my bank account!

Emotional Eating Is Real. I am not talking about the pint of ice cream and bottle of wine we consume after a breakup. I am talking eating out of boredom, stress, and even happiness. If I am stuck on a project at my internship, I will decide I just need to eat a snack and regroup. If I am really excited or want to celebrate, I will decide I need a cookie. If I am stressed out about getting everything done, I will decide I need some cheese. My decisions have not been made on my actual hunger, but with mindful eating I have become more aware and began to change this.

Mindful eating is a different journey for all of us, but in the end it can do nothing but help us become more connected with our bodies. Try using the eat-mojis to create your own mindful eating challenge and see what you discover!

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