Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can a Skeptic Eat Mindfully?

So this popped up in my newsfeed over the holiday weekend: 'Mindful eating' crucial for lowering weight and blood sugar in diabetics.  Basically the point of this article states we as educators need to stop focusing on telling people how many carbohydrates to eat at a meal and instead focus more on getting people "in tune with their body" to help them achieve their health goals.  Just the title had me putting my Skeptic Cranky Pants on, let me tell you why.

First of all, I really get tired of the whole "listen to your body" phrase because there is no definition as to how I am suppossed to do so and what exactly I am suppossed to be listening for.   For example, I have dealt with symptoms of hypoglycemia ("low blood sugar") since the age of seven (I'm now 38).  Before I figured out how to eat to prevent those symptoms, it was most likely that I would be sitting down a meal wanting nothing more than to devour the entire pot of pasta just so I could start to feel better.  I later found out that I was contributing to my "crashes" and sleepiness after meals by actually causing my body to overproduce insulin, but I didn't just figure that out by "listening to my body."  Second of all, a lot of times I have seen mindful eating associated with "expanding conciousness" and "third-eye-opening" and other phrases that don't really have much to do with rational thought.

All that said, I think a lot of our problems with nutrition come from not paying attention to what or how much we are eating.  I also think we could do better with enjoying what we do eat a little bit more.  So, here are my tips for eating Skeptically--which involves learning more about what you eat, how much you eat, and why you eat it by gathering objective data and quanitfying it as much as possible.

1) Start by planning out your menus for the week, and made provisions for any planned eating out you are going to do that week.  Do not do this while hungry if possible so that you are more likely to make rational choices.

2) Plan ahead for the grocery store.  Make up a list buy things only on that list, you will save money and time.  See my previous post on grocery shopping for more details.   You do want to take the time to read the labels for products on your list.

3) Keep a food diary for at least three days, if not longer.  Yes, I know it's work and not everyone enjoys record keeping (and there are some that get immense satisfaction out of it), but how else are you really going to get an idea of what and how much you are REALLY eating.  It's so easy to forget what we had later, or to ignore the realities of what you are eating.  Even if you record keep for a short period of time, it will give you some sort of idea of where you might need to make changes.
3a) Measure out or count out your portions at least once.  You will need to do this for your food diary to be accurate anyway.  Plus, it helps to have in front of your face how much a half cup of something really is!

4) Find ways to make your meal last longer, as there has been some research that indicates that people who eat slower do eat less (Link)  In one article I read about mindful eating it talked about how Buddhist monks used a chime at various intervals to help them to stop eating, think about what they were eating, etc.  If having a timer or bell go off every so often works for you, wonderful, but if the thought of a bell going off sets your teeth on edge, you can do other things like put down your utensils after each bite, chew your food a little bit longer, or set a timer nearby to see how much time you are using up for your meal.

5) Make a point of finding at least one descriptor for each of the foods on your plate, and be as specific as possible.   It might be one word (e.g. "salty") or it might be a phrase ("needs more hot sauce"). Sometimes we eat so fast we don't realize that the food really wasn't that enjoyable in the first place, and you can find other alternatives to that food.

6) If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, consider testing your blood glucose levels before and after meals for a couple weeks (or every time you try a new type of food).    Search the internet for a test strips that can be purchased at a discount (I have found some pretty good deals on Amazon.com).  See how much a particular amount of food really increases your blood glucose levels to help you make better choices in the future.

7) Take a moment to think about why you are eating that food before each meal and take responsibility for it.  Sometimes you might say "I'm eating this ice cream because I really like ice cream and I haven't eaten it for ages" or "I'm eating this piece of chocolate cake because I'm mad at my spouse."  You might find that sometimes you are eating for reasons that aren't exactly rational.  You might also find that sometimes you are just eating something because it tastes good and it really isn't more complicated than that.  Sometimes you will find that you are willing to dig deeper, just like me and my previous low blood sugar experiences.  You might say "I'm eating this to feel better, but how can I prevent feeling bad in the first place?"

Take home message--Just call it "paying attention to what you eat."  There are ways to do that without bringing on the woo.

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