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Mindful eating: A key to better health and weight loss

Could the secret to weight loss and better health be as simple as thinking about what's on your plate? It's no secret our society is fast-paced, but fast-tracking your meals could add inches to your waistline and shave years off your life. Mindful eating could be the key to a healthier, slimmer you.

What does it mean to eat mindfully?

"Mindful eating means being fully aware of what you're eating while you're eating," says Lena Beal, MS, a licensed and registered dietitian at Piedmont's Fuqua Heart Center.

Beal suggests reflecting upon the following questions from the book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat before and during a meal:

  • What are you eating?
  • When are you eating?
  • Why are you eating?
  • Where are you eating?
  • How much are you eating?
  • How do you feel?

The benefits of eating mindfully

Mindful eating can shift your eating environment from toxic to healthy, says Beal. It also helps identify the triggers that cause you to overeat. Overeating can lead to guilt, stress, obesity and eating disorders.

Taking time to pause and listen to your body before and during meals can help you make more nutritious choices and consume less because you're paying attention to when you feel full.

"Everything we do as dietitians is to make people aware of the nourishment they're consuming," she says. "Be present and in the moment."

Focus on nourishment

Mindful eating is not about restriction. It's about balance.

"Real food should nourish you, fill you up and not prompt you to eat more," she says.

A healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains should make you feel great, while foods high in salt, fat and sugar could lead to mood swings and decreased energy. You may discover eating an apple and peanut butter for an afternoon snack gives you more energy than eating a handful of fun-sized candy bars.

Understand your trigger foods and emotions

Another component of mindful eating is understanding which foods and situations trigger overeating.

If there is a certain food you love, but know it will cause you to overeat, make a mental note. Sugar and salt are common offenders.

If you're angry, stressed, bored or sad, note those feelings and wait 10 minutes before eating to determine if you're truly hungry.

"Consider hunger versus a craving and how to treat that feeling," says Beal.

If you choose to eat a treat, don't judge yourself - enjoy it.

"Savor a few bites," she says. "Then, if you're still tempted to overeat, ask yourself, 'Is this something that will really satisfy me? Is this nourishing me or is it making me want more?'"

Avoid distractions, savor your food

Society rewards multitasking, but your body may not. Put down the smartphone and step away from the keyboard so you can savor the taste, texture, smell and sight of a healthy meal.

An easy way to get start eating mindfully 

To get started, Beal suggests keeping a food journal for two to three days. Record what you eat on at least one weekend day because your eating habits during the week may differ on Saturday or Sunday.

"Write down everything you eat or drink, even a mint or piece of gum," she advises. "Include what time you're eating, where you're eating and how you're feeling at that time."

Taking just a few moments at each meal to eat mindfully can help you get healthier, make better meal choices and enjoy your food more. What do you have to lose?

For more nutrition tips, click here.

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