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Somewhere along the line, many of us develop poor eating habits: emotional eating, stress eating, mindless eating. Over time, these habits end up causing issues like moodiness, stomach aches, and excess weight. Also, many people end up taking over-the-counter meds to treat the body’s reaction to mindless overeating. These medications may have long-term consequences on your digestive system, especially when used frequently. I don’t advocate any of these types of “solutions”; they have negative side effects and can confuse and muddy our ability to understand what’s really going on in our bodies. Most importantly, most of these issues can be resolved without popping a pill.
For most of us, bad eating habits become a never-ending cycle of negative emotions that take up a huge amount of mental space. It goes like this: You hate yourself because you know you should be eating better and the fact that you’re not is your fault. You don’t think you have the willpower or strength to follow through on what you plan to do. So, you feel guilty, and in order to resolve that guilt, you turn to cookies or a bag of chips.
But here’s the truth: Lack of willpower is not the reason why you eat this way. The Food and Brand Lab is a research department at Cornell University that examines all the different elements that affect how much and which foods we eat. Their research is astounding. For instance, do you know that the color of your plate matters? It does! (Hint: Choose soothing colors like blue over yellow, as bright warm colors naturally stimulate appetite.) Cornell has tons of such studies, which all support the fact that our environment has a crazy amount of power over our eating habits. Another example, if a friend says something that stresses you out at dinner, you’re more likely to order the mac and cheese instead of the veggies and ﬁsh. When you consider the results of these studies, you might rethink those bad habits you’ve developed over time. They’re definitely not all your fault!
So let’s end the blame game. It. Stops. Right. Here. OK?
In one of those classic Sex and the City scenes that is imprinted in my brain, I fell in love with the image of Carrie Bradshaw standing in the kitchen of her stylish apartment, eating saltines with jelly (a college favorite of mine) as she ﬂipped through fashion magazines, something she described as “Secret Single Behavior.” It seemed so glamorous to me; it was such a marker of the independent, cool, city girl. However, this is what we do, us on-the-go-gals: we stand and eat with one hand while texting with the other. Maybe you feel busy and important and in-demand (and you are!) when that phone lights up every minute, but let’s take a second to be present with ourselves and of course, our food.
So what to do? First, chew. Chew until your food is mush or liquid, and eat more slowly. Use your new chewing habit to slow it all down—the whole experience.
Next, it’s time to turn off the TV. It is way harder to know when you are full and satiated if you are wildly distracted as you eat (not to mention all the appetite-stimulating commercials and shows you wind up watching). When you eat with distractions, you wind up feeling as if you never ate at all. You tend to eat much faster and chew less.
Practicing mindful eating is the best way to change those habits that no longer serve you and counteract the subconscious factors that get in the way of achieving your health and wellness goals. I know that the sheer mention of mindful eating usually results in an eye roll and probably a sigh. I thought that way too, before I learned what mindful eating truly was. Even after I became a health coach, I used to think I ate mindfully. I was wrong.
The ﬁrst time I really “got” mindful eating, I was at a retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts, taking one of my continuing education programs for nutrition professionals. After I completed my own eye rolls and got to work, I realized how transformative an experience mindful eating can be. The teacher had us each take one almond in our hands. She instructed us to really look at it. What did we notice? How did it smell? How much could we observe before taking our ﬁrst bites? I quickly realized how beautiful nature’s foods are. The striations in the almond, the lovely light brown color; this one little almond was a little piece of art.
Next, we tasted. Anything we noticed there? Was it smooth? Rough? How exactly could we describe the texture? And then ﬁnally, we chewed. What ﬂavors did we immediately notice? What ﬂavors did we notice after it was completely chewed until liquid? Were they different than what we noticed at ﬁrst? It blew me away how sweet the almond tasted the more I chewed—something I never really noticed before. It had taken me 10 minutes to eat one almond. It was an experience I’ll never forget. The more I incorporated mindful eating into my routine in a natural, innate way, the easier it was for me to be happy and satisﬁed with so much less.
Excerpted from Go With Your Gut by Robyn Youkilis, out now.
1. Reach for yogurt or kefir — a recent study showed that certain strains of probiotics are more effective when taken in dairy form, versus supplement form —as long as you don’t have a lactose intolerance.
2. Enzymes in your stomach break down the food you eat, but some studies show that your body produces fewer enzymes as you age. Taking a digestive enzyme, such as Enzymedica, with meals can support your body’s natural digestion.
3. Try adding miso to homemade soups in place of table salt. It’ll add a subtle, earthy flavor, plus natural probiotics.
4. Take the 21-Day Chewing Challenge to break the habit of scarfing down food. Your belly will thank you.