By Rebekah Owens
We often hear about what we should or shouldn’t eat, but did you know that HOW you eat, WHEN you eat and HOW MUCH you eat are also very important for good digestion and health? Harvard Medical School published an article on Mindful Eating, which is a great way to use mindfulness meditation as part of your mealtime and snack time activities. Additionally, there are ways to enjoy your food more and eat less using a few simple tricks. These are not just for weight loss; they are beneficial for every eater across the board for best digestion and increased meal enjoyment. Food should be fuel for your body, mind and soul. These tips will help you in your quest for best health.
1. Determine if you are really hungry or just bored or emotional.
Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian, nutrition expert and researcher here at the Center for Integrative Medicine, recommends thinking about the last time you ate – was it a full meal or just a snack? If it has been four or more hours since you last ate a meal, then it is probably hunger. If it is two or more hours since a snack, it is probably hunger. If you feel lightheaded, unfocused, or dizzy, it’s probably time to eat something. If it is time for a little snack, try 1 ounce of protein with a small piece of fruit or some veggies. For example, try 1 ounce of cheese with a small apple, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and a celery stick, or 1 ounce of nuts and a few baby carrots. The combination of protein and fiber will keep you fuller longer, without sacrificing many calories. Additionally, the fruits/veggies should give you the crunchiness and/or sweetness that you want.
If you just ate something and are bored, tired or feeling emotional, or if you see something sweet and want to eat it just because it is sitting there, you should wait to eat. In these cases, you could go for a short walk, get some fresh air, take a break from work to chat with a coworker, or call a friend to combat emotional eating. Drinking water or unsweetened tea is also an option if you don’t need to eat yet. Visit the water cooler at work for a walk plus something to drink and a short conversation!
2. Practice mindful eating.
3. Use a smaller plate or put half aside.
Studies have shown that using a smaller plate or glass decreases the amount of food and drink people consume. Portion control is very important to good digestion and health. Many of us were taught by our parents to “clean our plates,” so the brain has been trained to eat everything put in front of us. A smaller plate or glass holds less food or drink and – viola! – you can clean your plate without over-stuffing yourself.
Most restaurants serve meals on extra big plates and our trained brains are tempted to eat it all. To prevent this, ask for a to-go container at the beginning of the meal (or better yet, bring your own). Put half or more aside to enjoy later. This decreases your chance of eating too much and getting too full.
4. Don't overeat.
How much to eat depends on what you are eating. Dr. Parker recommends that you focus on making the meal nutrient dense rather than energy dense – eat more high quality foods instead of high calorie foods - and make each calorie count. Focus on making one half of the plate veggies, ¼ protein and ¼ carbs. This ratio will give you more better-for-you foods and fewer of the lower quality side dishes.
Additionally, it is important that you are eating the right portioned sizes for your meals and snacks. This chart from Prevention.com gives you a handy guide for estimating appropriate serving sizes:
For another good resource, I found this article on portion sizes by SkinnyMom.com to be really useful.
5. Sit for a few minutes afterwards and reflect.
After you have finished eating your snack or meal, sit for a few minutes and let digestion really begin. Reflect on how the meal tasted and how it made you feel. You should feel satiated and nourished. You should feel energized, not heavy, lethargic or ready for a nap. Take a few minutes to be grateful for the meal, too.
Eating the right foods the right way at the right time is a key to best health. Simply consuming fruits, veggies and protein is good, but eating them mindfully increases the digestive system’s ability to do its job and makes eating a pleasure not a burden. Eating the proper amount of food ensures that the body is not overtaxed and forced to hold on to the excess fat, cholesterol and other illness-enhancing substances. Eat well, eat right and enjoy!
About the Author: Rebekah Owens
Rebekah, a health food enthusiast, is the Public Relations Specialist at the Center for Integrative Medicine.
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