Mindful Eating For Physical Activity and Athletes

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PHOTOGRAPHY: Britt Selvitelle

In our rushed lives, we do not often think about when we eat, what we eat, why we eat and how we eat. But if we take the time to pay attention to our eating behaviors, we can control our weight more effectively by listening to our bodies’ signals of fullness and hunger.

That is the idea behind mindful eating, which can teach you (and your clients) to:

  • Become more aware of the positive, nurturing opportunities created by food preparation and consumption.
  • Choose food that pleases you, nourishes your body and uses all your senses to explore, savor and taste.
  • Acknowledge your responses to food—likes, neutral or dislikes—without judgment.
  • Let your awareness of physical hunger and satiety guide your decisions to start and stop eating. (Reproduced with permission from The Center of Mindful Eating© www.tcme.org.)

Engaging in physical activity makes many people feel free to eat as much as they like. I hear it again and again: “I know I can burn off the extra calories.” Unfortunately, this mindset turns eating into a mindless activity that encourages overconsumption. And it pays little attention to focusing on foods that will fuel the body for physical activity.

Exercisers need to be reminded to focus on the quality of their diet—foods and nutrients that energize the body and mind—not the quantity of calories they consume.

This can be difficult because people often misread the body’s signals of hunger and satiety. “Some research suggests genetic deficits exist because some people to have a problem realizing they are full” (Kristeller et al. 1999). Bacon et al (2005) conducted a study based on a model of “health at every size.” This study emphasizes the concept of learning and recognizing the internal cues and homeostatic mechanisms that underlie sensations of hunger and satiety. They based their study on the alternate obesity treatment model (Kratina 2003), which teaches people to listen to their bodies and be mindful of their internal feelings of hunger, satiety and appetite.

Practical Tips for Mindful Eating.

Wait Till Your Stomach is Empty or Almost Empty

  • The first step to mindful eating is to eat only when your stomach is (almost) empty, or when you have a slight sense of hunger. This tends to be about 2-3 hours after the last time you eat something.

Mind Your Environment

When mealtime arrives, it’s important to dedicate all your attention to the food. So:

  • Sit down, preferably at a table with a nice arrangement that appeals to you visually.
  • Remove external distractions: no television, phone, tablet or computer.

Appreciate Your Food

  • Breathe in and out a couple of times to calm you mind and body.
  • Begin with a moderate portion and focus on appreciating your food. Think about where it came from and whether it’s in its natural state or processed/manufactured.
  • Be grateful in light of the many people around the world who have no food on their plates.
  • Smell your food and take time to taste as you chew. Distinguish the different flavors, experience the texture, acknowledge the temperature of the food.
  • Stay focused on the food.

Wait!

Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your body is being fed. So, slow down. Wait until the food enters your stomach before you take the next bite; this will slow the pace of your eating and can prevent heartburn, acid reflux, stomachaches and some intestinal issues. More tips:

  • Really chew “ about 15-30 times per mouthful. It may be easier if you put your fork down between bites. Taking the time to chew your food will help you appreciate all the flavors and textures.
  • Stop eating when you feel about two-thirds full. This will help you tune in to your body’s satiety signals. Because you’ve been enjoying your food, you’ll start feeling full more quickly.
  • Ask yourself why before you eat that second helping: Is it hunger or habit?

Remember, mindful eating takes practice. Your mind will start to wander so you constantly need to pause and refocus.

The practice of mindful eating will help reinforce and remind us how powerful the mind/body connection really is, and that the practice of mindful eating can improve your physical and mental health and overall well-being.

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Shahla Khan, PhD

IDEA Author/Presenter
References
Bacon, L., et al. 2005. Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105 (6), 929–936.

Kratina K., 2003. Health at every size: Clinical applications. Healthy Weight Journal, 17 (2), 19-23.

Kristeller, J. L., & Hallett, C. B. 1999. An Exploratory Study of a Meditation-Based Intervention for Binge Eating Disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3), 357-363.

Photography: Britt Selvitelle
September 2013

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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