Focus on Food
By Christian Chung
“You are what you eat.”
Most people have heard this phrase before, yet very few stand true to it. Nevertheless, eating remains one of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy life. With regards to weight loss, for example, 80% of shedding pounds is what you eat, and the remaining 20% is exercise. However, what you eat doesn’t apply only to losing weight, but also how you feed yourself on a day-to-day basis.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should never eat dessert again, or that you can only consume 1,200 calories a day. Rather, you should focus on your own personal willpower and understand that mindful eating is the key to enjoying every meal. If you always worry about what you should and shouldn't eat, you may begin to experience deprivation, start setting strict rules for yourself, and rely on binge eating to compensate for the the calories you are denying your body. Instead, trying to understand what your body is really craving, whether it be a bowl of berries or a scoop of chocolate ice-cream, is the most balanced way to approach mindful eating.
Studies have shown that mindful eating has many benefits, including positive changes in weight, eating behavior, and psychological well-being. In addition, eating purposefully means that you never have to “diet”. You listen to your body, and eat what it tells you eat. At first you might think that this would have the opposite effect of what you want, because your body would crave chocolate chip cookies and chips all day. But does it really? Once you begin to understand what kind of food your body is really hungry for, you’ll realize that it craves a balance of both sweet and savory ingredients, and healthful ones too. The key is to listen to both sides of this craving. Following an approach like this allows you to forget about all the confusing rumors you’ve heard from diet-crazy friends and sketchy information on the internet. If your body wants to drink a milkshake, drink a milkshake. Living this way will actually allow you to enjoy eating, and be less resentful of trying to restrict yourself to only healthy foods! Making a conscious effort in paying attention to what you eat will allow you to taste the flavors and smell the aroma of different foods, enabling you to not only live in the moment while eating, but also in other aspects of your life as well. So remove your headphones, stop watching TV, and devote time during the day to focus on the food.
It’s understandable that mindful eating is hard to control, especially since many teens lack the willpower to say “no” to appealing foods when they are bored, stressed, or tired. Here are a few tips on how to focus on your meals:
1. Listen consciously to your body
Distractions are one of the main causes of mindless eating. Imagine you are in a movie theatre with full bag of popcorn. Throughout the movie, your hand subconsciously picks out kernels and pops them into your mouth without realizing it. Now, if you had that same bag of popcorn and were just sitting without watching anything, it’s unlikely that you would be able to finish the entire box. This isn't to say that you should never eat popcorn while enjoying a movie; but during your next meal, make a conscious effort to slow down and minimize distractions. This can be achieved by physically sitting at a table, chewing food more thoroughly that you usually would before swallowing, and allowing your brain to catch up to your body to communicate when you are full.
2. Knowing when your body is hungry
When food is around, we tend to eat it--especially if we’re stressed, sad, or tired. In other words, we often eat during times when our mind is emotionally preoccupied. Rather than eat when our mind tells us to, it’s important that we understand our body’s personal hunger signals. Most people when they’re hungry feel deprived of physical energy, and their stomachs start growling. Follow these typical tell-tale signs, and you’ll know when to eat.
3. Developing our eating environments
Snacking is one of the major forms of mindless eating. Roaming the pantry when you're alone at home or discovering a bag of chips in your desk drawer stimulates your mind to tell you to eat when you’re not really hungry. This cuts off our cues on what to eat and how much to eat, leading to a cycle of bad eating habits. Making plans to eat with people at a set time and place helps you eat the right amount of food, with friends there to keep you in check. Moreover, conversations with other people help you to slow down and enjoy meals.
4. Expanding your food palate
Initially this is very tricky, especially for people who take recourse in emotionally comforting food. Consider “eating the rainbow” and incorporating new colors to every meal. These can range from fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins to even a small amount of sweet items. By incorporating all these different colors, you will find comfort in at least a few of these nutritionally-beneficial foods. This makes it easier to include them into daily meals! Consciously making enjoyable adjustments to food habits will get you on the right path to eating right.
Gradually developing strong willpower is one of the keys to mindful eating: not only for the body, but also the soul. Mindful eating is about fueling both physical and mental well-being, so while you may focus on creating nutritionally-balanced meals for the most part, don’t be afraid to have a cheat day and eat something that makes YOU feel good.