‘Put your best fork forward’

Practice mindful eating for National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month and the theme for 2017 is “Put your best fork forward.”

The takeaway message from this campaign is that every choice, no matter how small, matters.

We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” and this phrase is true. Have you ever sat in front of the television with a bag of chips and the intention to eat just a few and soon discovered halfway through your show that your hand has reached the bottom of the bag? This is known as mindless eating, and it happens to us all.

Mindful eating is the practice of being present and making conscious decisions about food. When we pause to think about the foods we eat, we have more control over our food choices, weight and overall health.

So how can we practice mindful eating? For one, we can question ourselves before and during eating to determine whether to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat. Here are some tips for more mindful eating.

≤ Ask why you want to eat. Are you physically hungry, or are you thirsty? Sometimes we may feel hungry when we are really craving water. After drinking a glass of water, you may realize that you were not hungry at all. Are you eating because you are bored? Are you stressed or upset? If so, you may be using food to cope. Try doing an activity you enjoy instead of eating. For example, you could walk outside or write in a journal. Stop eating when you are full. You do not have to “clean your plate.” You could refrigerate or take home leftovers.

≤ Think about what you are eating and ask yourself if you want this food. Were you pressured by friends, family, or coworkers to eat? For example, it is someone’s birthday at the office, and your coworkers are offended if you do not eat a slice of cake. Did you choose this food while out with friends as a social activity? While food is a great way to enjoy ourselves and connect with others, we can also overeat in social settings. We may find ourselves eating when we are not even hungry just because everyone else is eating and we do not want to feel left out.

Think about the amount of food you are eating. Part of mindful eating is being aware of portion sizes. Even eating large portions of healthful foods can cause us to consume too much sugar, fat and calories. When we use larger plates, bowls and cups we tend to fill them until they are full although we normally would not eat or drink that much. One strategy to combat eating excessive amounts of food is to use smaller plates, bowls and cups. Individual portion sizes can help you gain self-control when eating chips or cookies. Small packages allow you to enjoy a snack, but prevent you from over-indulging. Restaurants typically serve twice as much food as we would normally eat, so asking for a take home box and putting half your meal in the box before you eat is a good strategy for portion control.

While eating your food, focus on enjoying every part of it. Think of eating as an experience instead of a chore or reward. Sit down at the kitchen or dining room table each time you eat to make eating its own activity. Look at your food while you eat it instead of at your phone or the television. Is the food on your plate colorful or dull? Which food groups are on your plate? Are there fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy? Focus on the different textures and how they feel between your fingers and in your mouth. Smell your foods before you eat them. Allow the food to set in your mouth for a few seconds before you begin chewing to taste each bite. Chew your food completely before swallowing it and moving on to the next bite. Mindful eating is about slowing down and savoring your food.

With March being National Nutrition Month, now is a great time to get back on track with your 2017 health goals. Set a goal to put these mindful eating techniques to use for two days this week. At the end of the day, think back to what you ate and how you felt about savoring your food and learning more about your hunger cues. Aim to practice mindful eating a few days each week until it becomes a normal part of your day.

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Megan Wall, of Cedar Crest College, is a dietetic intern working with Sharon McDonald, Penn State Extension.

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