10 Healthy Eating Exercises That Really Make a Difference
by Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD, President and Co-Owner, Green Mountain at Fox Run
When the average person thinks of different exercises, she probably thinks about any of the vast number of ways to move our bodies that can help us stay fit. But when I think about exercises, my mind travels to eating. Mindful eating, that is, and the different ways we can begin to practice the method, to help us develop a relationship with food and eating that truly supports our health.
Experiment with Mindful Eating
In today’s busy world, mindless eating is the go-to. To break that habit, we have to experiment with doing things differently. Experimentation is key because you want to find something that helps, and not everything necessarily works for every person.
So here are 10 exercises to try to make eating mindfully a regular part of your life. There are no right or wrong answers to any of the questions. The point is to observe your experience, which can help you make more supportive choices as you become more skilled in mindful eating.
1. Slow down: Put your fork or spoon down between bites. Alternate that with eating with your non-dominant hand. How does that affect your eating?
2. Take a few deep breaths before eating: Even close your eyes or stare unfocused out at nothing. How do you feel? Are you hungry? Tense? Is what you feel like eating affected by your level of hunger or stress? Does the awareness of what you are feeling affect the choices you make?
3. Chew slowly: Take a bite of food, then move it around in your mouth before you start to chew. Notice how the food tastes, how the textures feel, how the temperature changes. Then start chewing slowly, still moving it around in your mouth. What do you notice?
4. Wait for hunger before you eat: For two days, eat only when you are hungry. What does that feel like? Now eat when you are not hungry. What does that feel like? Caveat: Everyone eats occasionally when they are not hungry and that can be healthy because it allows for the many roles that food plays in our lives. It’s just when we frequently eat when we are not hungry that it can lead to trouble.
5. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, not necessarily full: For two more days, as you are still eating only when you are hungry, pay close attention as you eat. At what point do you feel like the food stops tasting as good as the first bite? When do you feel your hunger go away? When do you feel like you could stop and go for a few hours without getting hungry again?
6. Sit down when you eat: Before a morsel passes your lips, seat yourself at the table, or even your desk or the nearest chair. Does this simple act make a difference in your ability to tune in as you eat?
7. Take a smaller portion size than you usually do: Not too small – you want to have enough to experiment with. Eat it slowly, tasting it thoroughly. When finished, check in – do you feel satisfied? If not, take another small portion and eat it in the same manner, checking in after each bite. How much does it take for you to feel satisfied?
8. Consider what you really want before eating: Close your eyes and think about what would taste good to you right now. Then think about how you will feel as you eat it, and after you eat it. Make your choices based on all these factors.
9. Eat balanced meals: Experiment for a few days by eating meals that contain a mix of protein foods, grains/starchy vegetables, and vegetables and/or fruits, such as grilled chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli. For the next few days, then eat meals that are missing one of those groups, such as just grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. Do you feel differently when you eat the different combinations?
10. Eat a variety of foods: For a week, make it a point to eat a new food each day – one you don’t commonly eat or haven’t ever eaten at all. Does it make any difference to how satisfied you feel with eating well?
As you try these experiments, it can help to know that even the most skilled mindful eaters sometimes eat mindlessly. So just hang in there and keep experimenting. Find some that work for you, then practice them regularly, and you can find mindful eating becomes second nature. It will just be how you eat.
Remember – enjoy!