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This chapter is from the book

Mindfulness: The Art of Eating

Mindfulness, or paying attention, is a technique inherent in the natural eater. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? But in a world that pushes convenience, speed, and efficiency, paying attention to what, how much, when, and why you eat can be daunting. The following concepts can help you work toward a more mindful eating experience.

Know That You Can Eat Again

If you believe that this is the last time you will enjoy steak and potatoes (at least for a while), you create a mindset that lends itself to overeating. As you recall from the study on human starvation, deprivation usually promotes binging when food becomes available again. Overeating is not a sign of a defect in character; rather, it often points to prior restriction of food or particular types of food. This is why diets that place certain foods on "to be avoided" lists almost never work in the long haul.

Make Eating a Priority

It's difficult to be mindful when you're trying to eat, talk on a cell phone, and navigate the morning rush hour. Even if you have only five minutes to devote to a meal, sit down, take a deep breath, and enjoy it as much as possible. If your food options are limited, make the best of the situation and focus on whatever is sitting in front of you.

Create a Positive Eating Atmosphere

Many people find it helpful to go out of their way to create a positive, relaxed atmosphere when they eat. You've probably heard it before, but this time act on it! Go ahead—get out the candles, put on good music, use real flatware, turn off the TV, and don't answer the phone (or email or voice mail). This particular concept takes many different forms depending on your needs and preferences. Some people find cleanup after meals to be such a burden that they occasionally use disposable plates and utensils to feel more relaxed while they're eating. These aren't rules, merely suggestions. Do whatever you can do to eat in a positive environment.

Honor Your Taste Buds

Have you ever eaten a food strictly for its health-promoting qualities? I've worked with many clients who consistently order a salad for lunch, dutifully munch through a plate that sometimes contains far more calories than they realize, and get absolutely no satisfaction from that meal. What happens in the afternoons? They raid the vending machine or a colleague's candy dish for food that tastes good to them. By respecting your unique food preferences and choosing to eat a variety of foods that you truly enjoy at mealtime, you will be less likely to go on food raids at other times of the day.

Check In with Your Body During the Meal

This is especially helpful if you have little control over the portions served, as in restaurant meals. As soon as you are served, mentally or physically separate the meal into two or more portions. When you've finished one portion, pause for a moment to evaluate how you feel, how the food tastes, and if you really want the rest. If you're eating at home, you can accomplish this "body check-in" by starting with smaller servings, eating what's on your plate, pausing for a short break, and then deciding whether to get another helping. Sometimes you may choose to keep eating, even if you know that you have had enough to satisfy your physiological hunger. Special meals or celebrations and traveling to places that offer new foods are common and legitimate reasons to eat more than usual. The key is to recognize that your body and appetite will adjust for these decisions, and your next hunger signals may not appear as soon as they usually do!

As you become a more mindful eater, it may become clear that you are or have been using food to meet legitimate, nonhunger needs.

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