Monday, November 26, 2012

Seven Guidelines for Mindful Eating

How do you nourish yourself?
These days we’re hearing a lot about the power of mindfulness, and its amazing capacity to help us increase awareness, decrease stress and make wiser choices.  Although programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), originated by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, continue to provide opportunities for individuals to explore pathways to mindfulness, the concept may still seem a bit nebulous to the general public -- particularly folks who aren’t used to the idea of a meditative practice.
Mindfulness and  "The Wheel of Health"

The good news is that mindfulness is something that we’ve all experienced, and it can be cultivated simply.  It is nothing more than “paying attention on purpose”, and it can be developed through formal or informal practice.  Like any habit, mindfulness becomes easier the more we do it.  As a coach, I find mindfulness to be a powerful tool in facilitating behavior change, and it is at the very core of the model that guides my practice.

Mindfulness is a particularly important habit to cultivate with respect to nutrition.  We’ve all heard about the trends – U.S. citizens are becoming increasingly obese, and our nutrition choices are a major reason why.  According to a 2006 study by the Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. adults estimate that they overeat “junk” food at least some of the time.  Increasing our mindfulness about how we nourish ourselves, is an important first step towards making healthier choices.

Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and health promotion researcher at Harvard School of Public Health, identifies seven behaviors that are key to mindful eating. 

1)  Honor the food – In remembering where our food comes from, we enhance our sense of connection to our food and our appreciation of its role in supporting our well-being.
2)  Engage all your senses – Sensory awareness is a mindfulness strategy that, when applied to eating,  allows us to fully experience our nutrition choices.  In addition to helping us slow down, this practice also allows us to notice what thoughts or feelings come up to interrupt our full participation.
3)  Be mindful of portion sizes – When we cultivate the habit of taking smaller portions, we reduce the likelihood of overeating.  Cheung recommends using a plate no larger than 9 inches.  A number of research studies confirm the link between large portions and overeating.
4)  Chew your food – Many of us have trained ourselves to eat quickly, but this habit does not promote healthy nutrition.  Chewing food completely allows us to fully experience our food and to digest it more completely.  It also helps us to eat more slowly.
5)  Eat slowly – Our sensation of being satisfied after eating (satiety), is driven by stretch receptors in our digestive system.  It takes approximately 20 minutes for these receptors to provide feedback to our brains that we are full.  If we eat too quickly, we are more likely to overeat because we don’t sense that we’ve had enough until we’ve already eaten too much.  Studies confirm that eating slowly reduces our food intake!
6)  Do not skip meals – Skipping meals during the day can negatively impact your nutrition plan for a couple of reasons.   Skipping meals alters your metabolism and may increase your risk for diabetes. Also, when you skip meals, you are less likely to make thoughtful food choices the next time you eat.
7)  Eat a plant-based diet – Plants are rich in fiber and phytonutrients, both essential to a healthy metabolism.  In addition, all the fiber that comes with eating plants increases our sense of fullness.  While one can find a wide variety of nutrition advice, all eating plans seem to agree on the value of eating more vegetables.  For an interesting summary about the research on plant-based diets, I recommend viewing the documentary Forks Over Knives.

In this three-minute video, Dr. Cheung shares her perspective about these habits.  It’s well worth your time!

What about you?  Which of these strategies have you tried and what have you discovered?  I’d love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Making it JUICY!

Last weekend, I was driving to church with my daughters and had my radio tuned in to a local FM station.  A commercial break came on, and my attention was captivated by an ad for – of all things – a sandwich.  It featured a woman trying to tempt a man to abandon his willpower and give in to the pleasure of eating this particular item that apparently wasn’t on his nutrition plan.  The language that she used to describe this creation evoked such sensual images that it could have made a sailor blush!

This got me to thinking about all the ways that our popular culture pulls people in unhealthy directions.  Imagine all the money that is being invested in getting us to work harder, be sedentary, eat poorly, and numb ourselves with all manner of distractions!

What if we were promoting health with just as much intensity?  What would that look like?   Do you remember that famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally?”  You know – the one where Meg Ryan captivates everyone’s attention with her enraptured “Yes, YES, YES!!!!  That’s what I’m imagining.  What if we could inspire others to say: “I’ll have what she’s having!”?

Now, one thing you should know about me is that I am easily amused by words.  With a English teacher for a mom and a pastor for a father, I suppose this is no accident!  So, I decided that this could be fun challenge…

Here’s my first attempt: 

“Don’t wait another minute!  Optimal Health is the delicious creation that you’ve been dreaming of.  Once you see it, you’ll be longing to taste the juicy sweetness of each delicious moment.  As you enjoy bite after bite of a life that is drenched with joy and oozing vitality, you won’t want to stop!  Let your imagination run wild and experience the rich pleasure of extreme well-being.  You were made for this!”

Do you want to play?  Just for fun, I’d love to see what juicy advertisements that you can create to promote the idea of optimal health.  (Keep it G-rated please!)

You can post your ideas here, or if you want to make it more interesting, I’ve set up a Facebook event that I'm calling "The Juicy Life Challenge".  Just post your “ad” between now and Monday, November 19 (at 5:00 p.m. ET).  Then, please take a look at all the entries and click “like” for the ones that you think are the best!  Whoever gets the most “likes” will win a gift certificate for a 12-week integrative health coaching package.  What a great way to kick off the holidays!

If you don’t want to submit an ad, you’re still invited to participate by voting.

I’m looking forward to hearing what folks come up with.  This will be juicy!