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Raise your hand if you’ve ever committed the following eating sins:
-Eaten Chinese food straight from the carton while standing up, refrigerator door open.
-Scarfed down lunch at your desk while playing around on Facebook.
-Picked at the giant plate of nachos your friends ordered, even though you weren’t hungry.
Sound familiar? It certainly does for me. That’s because mindless eating is everywhere. Whether we desktop dine or devour while driving, the opportunity to eat on automatic is omnipresent, made all the more attractive by oversized portions and our crazy-busy lifestyles.
You’d think the binge-like practice would disappear at Thanksgiving, as we sit down and give thanks for the food we’re about to enjoy. But for many of us, T Day is a food frenzy of freakish proportions. Turkey is gobbled, mashed potatoes are inhaled, dessert is consumed as if we were in the pie-eating contest in Stand By Me.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a Mindful Eating session with Mary Horn, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist at the Vail Vitality Center in Vail, CO. During our time together, Horn guided myself and a few other writers through the process of eating with intention -- actually tasting the food instead of just chewing and swallowing. For the first time since perhaps childhood, I called on all of my senses as I ate a grapefruit, smelling the crisp citrus, feeling the thousands of little juicy pods bursting on my tongue. It took me 10 minutes to eat that grapefruit, and it was delicious in a whole new way.
“Mindful eating slows us down,” Horn explains. “That allows your body’s natural feedback systems to help you understand when you’ve eaten enough. Your stomach is only the size of a fist. Think of how much we put past it.” The result: We push away from the table feeling overstuffed and, quite often, guilty.
Eating mindfully is like building a muscle: You have to exercise it every day to get stronger. Unfortunately, I forgot about my grapefruit experience all too soon, and was back to mechanically scarfing meals within a matter of days. So I called Horn up to gather some tips for eating mindfully this Thanksgiving. Warning: The advice below may sound hokey at first, but I promise you, they work, don’t require all that much effort, and can take eating to a whole new level.
1. When you sit down, visually take in all of the food before you. Take a moment to be grateful to the earth, the sun and the rain for creating such nourishment.
2. Look around at the people you love, and thank them (silently or out loud) for the delicious food they’ve prepared…or for their willingness to always listen to you…whatever makes them who they are.
3. Before your first bite, smell your food. The cherry scent of the pinot noir, the earthy mulled cider, the savory turkey breast. Take a moment to savor the beauty of the smell, as it enhances your overall eating experience (think about when you’re sick with a stuffy nose -- you can’t taste a thing).
4. Feel the texture of the food as it works its way into your mouth. Experience “the pungent crack of cranberries, the crunchy roasted nuts, the smooth and creamy pumpkin pie.”
5. Listen to the sounds of the Thanksgiving table. Wine being poured into stemware. Stuffing being plopped onto plates. The music in the background. Your family laughing.
Once you become more accustomed to mindful eating, you can use it to guide your food choices. Instead of eating a boring yogurt with a banana because it seems like the “right” thing for breafast, you let your intuition and real hunger guide you. Maybe what you’re truly craving is a satisfying, creamy-crunchy combination like peanut butter on toast. When you tap into your needs and eat only for the present moment, Horn says you’ll often feel satisfied with less food so you can indulge in once-decadent choices without gaining weight. (It goes against the low-fat mentality of the 90s, but a few bites of old-fashioned fudge has fewer calories -- and will do less damage -- then a half-sleeve of fat-free “chocolate-y chip” cookies.)
Wishing everyone a happy, mindful Thanksgiving!
Have you ever tried to eat mindfully? If so, what did you learn? Chime in below!