Look better, feel better with mindful eating

Why many are moving away from restrictive eating plans

DETROIT – Trying to look better and feel better in the New Year?

While diet is key, there is a shift away from the strict plans that have been so popular in the past.

It’s a different approach to eating that’s not really a diet, and it is something that anyone can adopt for better health or weight loss.

Study after study finds the majority of people who try to lose weight through a diet ultimately fail, and one of the main reasons is that the changes many plans require are just too difficult to sustain.

“Most of the diets that are out there are really about restricting,” said Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian with the Henry Ford Health System. “You’re restricting certain foods, you’re restricting even food groups, and at some point, you’re going to crave those foods.”

Thayer says changing your approach to food on a more basic level can lead to better long term success.

“If you’re looking to make a change, eating mindfully can be actually a much easier change to make than some of the restrictive diets that are out there,” said Thayer.

Mindful eating is really about intentional eating, just like it sounds, and not eating automatically. The idea isn’t new, and stems from the thought that by being more attentive to what and how we eat -- we get more enjoyment from our food.

“Eliminating the distractions and bringing your senses, all of your senses, into the food that you’re eating,” said Thayer. “So what does it look like, what does it smell like, what does it taste like, what’s it feel like when you eat it?”

In addition to appreciating your food more, eating mindfully slows you down, before you overeat.

“Taking your time to really intentionally eat gives also time for the food to get to your stomach and let your body know you’re being nourished,” explained Thayer. “It takes about 20 minutes for the food that you eat to register your brain that you’ve eaten something.”

A review of 24 studies suggested distracted eating lead to a moderate increase in that eating at that meal and later in the day.

Other research found those who ate more mindfully were less likely to be obese and had less belly fat.

Another critical benefit to mindful eating is an awareness of why we’re eating and when we’re really not hungry, but eating for a different reason.

“It’s really important to check in with yourself and ask yourself, ‘Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I bored? Am I happy or upset?’” said Thayer. “And if you’re not answering, ‘Yeah, I am hungry’ then what are the other things you can do to meet those needs.”

This is important because research has found emotions, both positive and negative, are a key contributor to overeating. Curbing that behavior can create long lasting changes in the tendency many of us have to overeat.

I know personally, evaluating if I’m truly hungry or just bored has helped me cut out snacks.

“Mindful eating also doesn’t mean you can’t indulge and have some of your favorites,” said Thayer. “But you may find being mindful about what you’re eating means you only need one or two bites of that indulgence.”

If you want to give mindful eating a try, start slow, just one meal at a time, and really concentrate on what you’re eating and why.

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