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Pay Attention to Your Body While You Eat

December 2012

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

To lose weight, nutrition experts suggest paying more attention to how, what, why, and where we eat. Here are some small steps to make you more mindful of your personal eating habits:

Eat Food Slowly- This allows you to really enjoy your food and makes it less likely that you will overeat. When you eat quickly, you may go past the point of fullness without realizing it.

Don’t Eat While Doing Other Things- Doing something else while you are eating will distract you from being mindful. If you normally eat while doing other things, discover how it feels to just focus on your food. That means turning off the television, computer, or music, and not working, reading a newspaper, or doing anything else that would distract you.

Focus on the Food and How You Feel - Eat foods that taste good and make you feel good.

Pause to Check Whether you are Still Hungry - It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you are full. So pause every few minutes to check yourself on the hunger scale. (See the November 2012 SSHW Health Message) You may find that you are satisfied before your food is gone.

Having a Mindful Eating Experience
It’s one thing to talk about eating mindfully and another to actually do it. Practice mindful eating right now by choosing a piece of candy such as a piece of chocolate. Allow yourself to savor the piece of candy and learn to enjoy it by being conscious of the flavor, smell and enjoyable taste.

Enjoying one piece of candy allows you to learn to consume an enjoyable sweet without over-eating or needing large amounts of special foods. As you enjoy the piece of chocolate, let all your senses come alive.

  • Observe the shape of the candy and the color of the wrapper.
  • Smell the candy through the wrapper. How does it smell?
  • Anticipate how the candy will taste.
  • Slowly unwrap the candy and listen to the crinkle of the wrapper.
  • Take another deep smell. Is the aroma stronger?
  • Place the candy in your mouth and rest it on your tongue.
  • Let the candy melt slowly in your mouth.
Now, savor the sweetness and changing texture of the candy. Close your eyes and pretend this is the first candy you ever tasted. How would you describe the taste, texture, and aroma to someone else? Was this one piece of candy satisfying? What if you ate all food this way?

You are practicing mindful eating and learning to stop when you are no longer hungry. Many chronic dieters do not know what being comfortably full feels like because they go between being very hungry and very full. Some have described being comfortably full as a subtle feeling of stomach fullness, feeling satisfied and content, and feeling nothingness—neither hungry nor full.

Again, assess your fullness, pause every few minutes to check yourself on the hunger scale. Pay attention to your internal cues, and aim to stop eating when you are between 5 and 6 on the scale which is feeling comfortably full. Give yourself permission to eat when you are hungry again. If you know that you can eat again when you are hungry, it will be easier to stop eating when you are no longer hungry.

In contrast, if you have a personal food rule that states you cannot eat for several more hours, you would want to keep eating even if you no longer felt hungry. Remember, taking small steps toward mindful eating will help you control your food intake, calories and body weight.