Mindful Eating: How to be in Control of What You Eat

By: Porter Regional Hospital Last Updated: September 22, 2012

Mindful-EatingFrom the Summer 2012 StayHealthy publication

Have you ever done a disappearing act with a bag of potato chips? The bag is empty (1,000 calories!) and you don't remember eating them. That sort of mindless eating is all too common, according to Zeba Ali, MD, Family Medicine Physician with Portage Medical Group. "When we eat mindlessly, we waste precious calories without even enjoying them," she says.

"Mindfulness isn't new. In fact, it's a way of thinking to improve health and wellbeing. But mindful eating may be a helpful way to increase our enjoyment of food as we lose weight," says Ali.

Mindful eating begins with distinguishing between true physical hunger and psychological hunger. True hunger is what happens when you haven't eaten in about five hours and your body needs food. Your energy is low, your stomach growls, and you can't concentrate. This is different than psychological eating, which is when your brain wants food, because someone brought doughnuts to the office or eating at a certain time because it's a habit. "Once we're eating because we're hungry, then we need to learn to stop when we're full," says Ali.

Another key to using mindful eating for weight loss is to practice portion control and learn to enjoy smaller portions. Ali encourages serving meals on smaller plates to encourage smaller portions. She also suggests pre-measuring portions and keeping them in snack-sized baggies as well as placing half of a restaurant meal in the "to-go" box before you dig in to prevent overeating. "You'll enjoy each bite more when there are fewer bites."

Ali recommends snacking when hungry, rather than gorging at mealtimes. "Rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being ravenous and 10 being stuffed and ready to burst. You want to avoid getting to 1 because it will lead to overeating, but you also want to avoid getting to 10 because it means you have overeaten," she smiles. Finding that happy place is key. "Enjoy eating," says Ali, "but eat to live; don't live to eat."

Ali gives the following hints to avoid food when we're inclined to eat when we're not physically hungry:

1. Distract yourself
2. Walk away from the food
3. Chew gum or suck on a mint instead
4. Remind yourself that hunger is not an emergency
5. Try drinking water. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger

Dr. Ali is a member of the medical staff at Porter. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Ali at Portage Medical Group, call 219.364.3700