Four Tips for Eating Mindfully

Be mindful of how much you eat.

Mindless eating can lead to overeating and digestive woes. But when you eat mindfully, you tend to slow down and eat less – just enough so that you’re comfortable, not stuffed.

Even if you’ve never heard the term “mindless eating”, chances are good that you’ve experienced it. Can’t remember what you ate for dinner because you were so focused on the television show you were watching? That’s mindless eating. Ever finish an entire bucket of popcorn at the movies and ask yourself, “did I really eat all that?” That’s mindless eating, too.

What Happens When You Eat Mindlessly?

Mindless eating is what happens when you eat – and overeat – without really thinking about it. When you eat mindlessly, you don’t ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, or question whether your portion is too large, or if the food even tastes good to you. You just eat it. And that’s because you’re not paying attention to your body’s internal signals – like the ones that tell you that you’re hungry, or when you’re comfortably full. Instead, you’re responding other cues push you to eat and overeat. Maybe you’re stressed or anxious or bored, or you eat something that’s offered to you – even though you’re not hungry at all.

Mindless eating often leads you to take in a lot more calories than you should – and you may eat much too quickly, too. You may not chew your food thoroughly, which means you’re probably swallowing a lot of air while you’re gulping it down. And, during an episode of rapid-fire overeating, you may not immediately realize how full you are. That’s because it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to let your brain know that you’re full – and by that time you’ve already overdone it. So it’s no wonder that discomfort – in the form of indigestion or bloating – can set in.

So what would happen if you turned “mindless eating” around, and practiced more “mindful eating” instead?

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is just what it sounds like. When you eat mindfully, you try to become more aware of your internal signals of hunger and fullness – which means really listening to your body. You become more in touch with the eating experience – which means you’re likely to enjoy it more while eating less.

Mindful eating means slowing yourself down and taking the time to appreciate how the food looks on the plate, how it smells, and how it tastes. If you’re with others, you take pleasure in their company – and if you’re eating alone, you take pleasure in being able to focus on your meal and enjoy it without distraction. The other benefit? By slowing down, you’ll learn to be satisfied with appropriate portions – which will help curb the tendency to overeat – and your digestive system won’t be overburdened. Not only will this help keep your calories in check, but it gives your system time to properly digest your meal, too.

How to Eat More Mindfully

  • Be mindful of why you eat. One of the first steps in eating mindfully is to become more aware of what triggers you to eat in the first place. Are you hungry? Tired? Anxious? Bored? While you’re noting that, also, rate how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 5 – where 1 means “not hungry at all” and 5 means “I’m starving”. After a week or so, examine your patterns. If you often eat because you’re stressed – even though your hunger level is a “1” – you’ll want to find alternatives to eating to relieve your stress – like taking a walk, or calling a friend, or maybe practicing some deep breathing.
  • Be mindful of how much you eat. While you’re making note of why you eat, also make a note of how full you are after you’ve finished. Practicing portion control helps you to learn how much food it takes to satisfy your hunger – which might be a lot less than the amount you want to eat. Since we tend to eat whatever amount we’re served, start by serving yourself smaller portions than you usually do. And, learn to stop eating when you’re comfortably full – even if it means leaving some food on your plate.
  • Be mindful of how quickly you eat. Mindless eaters tend to eat quickly, so also make note of how long it takes you to eat a meal. If it takes you less than 10 minutes, make an effort to stretch it out to 20 minutes. Try putting your utensils down between bites, and practice chewing and swallowing each bite of food before loading up your fork with another bite.
  • Be mindful of how you eat. Are you eating on the go, or at your desk while you work, or while you’re watching television? If you are, it’s unlikely that you’re paying much attention to your meal, and more likely that you’re just gobbling it down. Instead, try to be mindful of how you eat, and take the time to sit down and enjoy your food. Put down a placemat, turn on some music, maybe even dim the lights. Relax and take your time – your digestive system will thank you.

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Don’t let holiday weight gain creep up on you! 12 tips to curb overeating

Holiday weight gain: Why it’s so easy and what you can do about itHoliday weight gain doesn’t have to happen.  Here’s how to avoid overeating during the holiday season. 

Gaining weight over the holidays is what you might call a “no-brainer.”  When you’re facing a month-long holiday season of non-stop parties, family get-togethers and once-a-year holiday foods, it’s easy to think, “who wouldn’t gain a few extra pounds?” Holiday weight gain doesn’t have to happen, but a lot of people just assume that it will.  And that kind of thinking could get you into a lot of trouble.  If you’re convinced that holiday weight gain is inevitable, you’re probably not going to do much to prevent it.

Why It’s So Easy to Gain Weight Over the Holidays

That’s not to say that maintaining your weight over the holidays is easy – it’s a huge challenge to keep your eating under control during the holiday season. When you’re facing so many situations (and for so long) that entice you to eat more than you should, your willpower is being tested nearly nonstop.

Look at it this way: in your daily life, you can probably name a situation or two that you know will trigger you to overeat.  Maybe you eat too much when you’re stressed, or you overdo it on the weekends.  And when  you’ve only got one or two triggers to manage, you can probably do that pretty well most of the year.

But when the holidays come around, it’s not just one or two things that can trigger you to overeat.  In fact, if I were to list (as I’m about to do) some of the most common overeating triggers, it’s as if every single one of them is coming at you from all sides during the holidays. And, it goes on for weeks.   When you look at it that way, it’s amazing we don’t gain more weight than we do over the holidays.

We Don’t Gain That Much Over the Holidays (But We Don’t Lose It, Either)

In fact, according to a widely cited study1, the average American only gains about 1 pound (about half a kilo) during the (roughly) 6-week holiday season that stretches from the end of November through the first of the New Year.

Now the bad news:  The same study also noted that those who start the season with extra weight do have larger weight gains over the holidays – closer to 5 pounds (2.3 kg).   And, no matter how much weight you gain over the holidays – even if it’s only a pound or so – that weight tends to stay with you. Hang onto that extra pound year after year, and you could have a case of obesity creeping up on you.

12 Reasons Why We Overeat at Holidays

  • Longer meals can lead to overeating. Holiday meals tend to be more leisurely – we enjoy sitting around the table visiting, without the need to rush.  But the longer you sit at the table, the more you’re likely to eat . You absent-mindedly grab another spoonful of potatoes or a second slice of pie.  To signal that your meal is over, take your plate into the kitchen, or pop a breath mint in your mouth.
  • Eating with other people can lead to overeating.  When you eat with other people, meals tend to be longer.  You might also find yourself influenced by the large portions other people are eating, and give yourself permission to follow suit.  Being the first one to plate up sometimes helps – that way, you can serve yourself a reasonable portion without being swayed by the amount of food others are piling onto their plates.
  • Drinking alcohol can lead to overeating.  An alcoholic drink or two can loosen your inhibitions – often bringing on the “what the heck, it’s the holidays!” attitude.  Your best defense here is to set a limit of how many drinks you’re planning to have – and stick to it – and alternate alcoholic drinks with calorie-free beverages.
  • Exposure to a wide variety of foods can lead to overeating.  The more variety on your plate, the more you’re likely to eat.  That’s because it takes longer for your taste buds to get bored – when every bite is a little different, you just want to keep eating.  To handle this, you can either limit the number of choices you allow yourself, or keep your portions very small if you’re going for variety.
  • Pressure from friends and family can lead to overeating. At no time of the year is the pressure more intense, it seems, than at holidays.  Relatives knock themselves out making special holiday dishes, and you run the risk of insulting them if you don’t indulge (or over-indulge).  You can gently push back by agreeing to just a small portion, or you can try saying, “I know I’d enjoy this a lot more if I weren’t so full – maybe later.”
  • Getting out of your usual routine can lead to overeating. One reason people overeat on the weekends is because they’re out of their usual routine – and the holiday season can seem like a weekend that lasts for a month.  Even when you have parties and get-togethers to attend, it’s unlikely that every single meal is affected.  So, stick to your usual eating routine when you’re not at an event, and make a commitment to stay on track with your exercise, too.
  • Eating away from home can lead to overeating.  You tend to eat more calories when you eat away from home because it’s harder to control portion sizes or ingredients. Holiday meals often involve large portions of rich food, so you need a strategy.  Do your best to keep portions of rich food on the small side, and try to load up on any items that won’t break your calorie bank, like vegetables and green salads.  Resist the temptation to fill your plate, and use a smaller plate if one is available to help you control portions.
  • Stress can lead to overeating. Holiday time is fun, but it’s also stressful.  If stress is one of your overeating triggers, you’ll want to find other ways to calm down.  Try to carve some downtime for yourself so you’re not over-committed, and be sure to set time aside for the best stress-buster of all – exercise.  Rather than turning to food when you’re stressed, have a cup of tea, call a friend, take a walk, or meditate for a few minutes instead.
  • Family style meals can lead to overeating.  When serving dishes are placed on the table – as they often are at holiday meals – overeating is encouraged.  Second helpings (and thirds…) can happen before you know it.  Pass bowls and platters of tempting foods to the opposite end of the table to get them out of your line of sight.
  • Serving yourself from large containers can lead to overeating.  Behavioral psychology research tells us that we serve ourselves more food from large containers than we do from smaller ones.  Holiday platters are often gigantic, and food is piled up so high that even if you take an enormous serving, it hardly makes a dent.  Keep an image in your head of the portion sizes you know you should eat, and do your best to stick to them.
  • Eating from a buffet line can lead to overeating. Buffets can be the ‘’perfect storm” of overeating – there’s lots of variety, serving dishes are huge, you can go back as many times as you want, and you have no idea how most of the dishes were prepared.  Before you dig in, take a stroll down the length of the buffet line and determine what you’re going to have.  Fill up your plate with as many of the lower-calorie items that you can identify, with much smaller portions of the richer fare.  If you can, sit with your back to the buffet line.  Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Increased exposure to food can lead to overeating.  Ever notice how – at holiday time – there’s food everywhere you go?  From goodies in the break room at work, candy canes on the counter at the bank, and gift baskets arriving unexpectedly at your door, you’re exposed to more temptation at this time of the year than any other.  While it’s hard to limit your exposure to all these treats, you can change the way you respond when you see them.  Rather than letting your impulses get the best of you, stop and ask yourself, “did I plan to eat this?”  If you didn’t plan for it, didn’t want it until you saw it, or wouldn’t go out of your way to get it – you probably shouldn’t be eating it.

1Yanovski JA et al. N Eng J Med. 2000; 23:861

Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.

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How to Stop Stress Eating Right Now

Check your emotions before eating.

Stress eating doesn’t usually take away stress, and if it’s done too often, it can also add pounds. Here are some tips to beat this habit..”

Emotional Eating: It Happens.

Emotional eating happens to many of us from time to time. Maybe you’ve cheered yourself up with a bowl of ice cream after an unusually tough day, or sneaked a few French fries from your best friend’s plate while recapping a disastrous date. But when emotional eating gets out of hand—when eating is the first and most common response to negative thoughts and feelings—it’s time to get a grip.

What is stress eating?

Stress eating, or emotional eating, is when you eat in order to escape whatever bad feelings you’re experiencing, in the hope that food will make you feel better. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, but more often it’s just a mindless response to a vague, negative emotion. You may not know what’s bothering you, but you’re pretty sure that food is the one thing that will cure whatever ails you.

Is it emotional or physical hunger?

There are few tell-tale signs that can help you distinguish emotional hunger/stress eating from true, physical hunger.

    • Emotional stress eating usually comes on suddenly. You start feeling stressed or tense, and wham! You’re craving nachos. On the other hand, physical hunger tends to come on gradually. You’re starting to feel hungry but you can wait to eat, which gives you some time to choose wisely and satisfy that hunger with something that’s good for you.
    • Stress eating usually causes a craving for a food that’s sugary, fatty and high calorie—and often very specific (not simply “chocolate,” but “a slice of triple layer fudge cake from Fred’s Diner on 6th Street”). But when you’re physically hungry, food in general sounds good to you. You’re willing to consider several options that will satisfy your physical hunger, which means you’re more likely to make a better choice.
    • Once your physical hunger is satisfied and your stomach is comfortably full, it’s a signal that you’ve had enough and you tend to stop eating. But when emotions are the driver, it’s easy to ignore what your stomach is telling you—and you wind up eating way too much while attempting to make yourself feel better.
    • Stress eating might lift your mood momentarily – then, just as quickly, shame and guilt often move in. On the other hand, when you finish a meal that’s satisfied your physical hunger, you don’t usually feel guilty afterwards for having eaten.

Tips for dealing with stress eating behaviors

    Keep a food journal. A food journal can really help you see what triggers your stress eating. Whenever you feel the need to eat, make a note of how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = I’m faint with hunger; 10 = I’m so stuffed I have to loosen my clothing). Then write down how you’re feeling at the moment.
    Own up to your feelings. You know that emotions are the trigger for your stress eating, so why not acknowledge them? It’s okay to be mad or lonely or bored sometimes. The feelings may be unpleasant but they’re not dangerous, and you don’t always need to ‘fix’ them.
    Work on your coping skills. Every time you eat in response to stress, it’s just a reminder that you can’t cope with your emotions. When stress strikes, try asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t eat?” Yes, your stress level might rise a bit, but the feeling will pass. Practice tolerating your emotions, or finding other ways to deal with your stress.
    Find alternatives to eating. Take a few moments to reflect on your feelings and think of ways you can solve your problem. Make a list of things you can do instead of eating, like walking, listening to music or meditating.
    Unlearn your bad habits. Emotional eaters continually reinforce the idea that the best way to treat negative emotions is with food. And like other bad habits, stress eating happens before you’ve even had a chance to think about it. So, you need to “un-learn” your bad habits and practice doing something other than eating when a bad day strikes.
    Wait it out. Stress eaters often are afraid that if they don’t satisfy the urge to eat, the craving will just get worse. But when they practice delaying tactics, they’re often surprised that the urge simply passes. Rather than immediately giving in to your urges, promise yourself you’ll wait a few minutes and let the craving pass.

Be kind to yourself, and give yourself time to work on your stress eating. If you find that these tactics aren’t working for you, ask your health care provider if counseling or group support might be helpful for you.

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A recipe for overeating?


Keep portions down by eating right, getting plenty of exercise & maybe keeping a food diary Candles, music and the one you love may be a recipe for overeating.  Subtle cues in your surroundings can affect how much  food you eat.

Seasoned dieters know plenty of the tricks for keeping their eating in check.  Beyond the usual strategies - eating right, getting plenty of exercise and maybe keeping a food diary – they might use more subtle tactics for keeping portions down.   They’ll use smaller plates or taller glasses, for instance, to give the illusion that they’re getting more food and drink than they really are.  They’ll make sure to put tempting foods out of sight – and keep healthy ones in plain view.  What they may not realize is that there are other influences in the environment – much less obvious ones – that could still throw their eating off course.

When you sit down to eat, there’s a lot more going on than just you interacting with the food on your plate. You’re actually receiving all sorts of stimuli from your environment – what you’d call the ambiance, the mood or the “vibe” – that can have a real impact on how much you eat.

  • Eating alone vs. eating with others. Most people eat less when they’re by themselves than they do when they’re with other people. The more people at the table, the more you’re likely to eat.  With one other person, you’re likely to pack away about a third more calories – but if you’re with a gang of seven or more, you’ll eat about 75% more than if you went solo.  One reason is that meals with others usually last longer than meals eaten alone.  So - as long as there’s food around – the longer you sit, the more likely you are to keep eating.
  • How you feel about your companion(s). If your dining companion makes you uncomfortable – let’s say you’re having a job interview over lunch – you’re probably going to eat a lot less than if you were out with your closest pal.  Not only do we eat more when we’re in the company of friends, but we tend to model their eating behaviors, too.  If we’re out with a bunch of hearty eaters, we’re very likely to follow suit.
  • Mood lighting. This one’s tricky, because lighting can work both in your favor and against it.  On the one hand, the brighter the room, the more aware you are of what you’re eating – which would seem to suggest that bright lights might help you eat less.  But bright, harsh lighting can also be unpleasant, which might lead you to eat more quickly. Eating quickly doesn’t necessarily mean that you eat less.  When you’re shoveling it in, your stomach doesn’t get a chance to tell your brain that it’s full – and that can lead to overeating.  On the other hand, when the lighting is soft and warm, you tend to feel more relaxed – meaning you’re more likely to stick around the table longer … and keep eating.
  • Music to your ears…and your stomach. Just as bright lights can quicken your eating pace, studies say that playing loud, fast music does too.  However, soft jazz might not be much better as you may not eat as quickly, but your meal is likely to last longer.  If you’re home, that might mean a second helping… and if you’re out, it could lead to dessert or another drink.  Any music, it seems – in fact, just a generally noisy environment – tends to encourage eating.
  • Color me hungry. The effects of room color on eating behavior is a bit scanty, but it has been shown that bright room colors tend to get people amped up – which means they eat more, and more quickly. That would suggest that soft, muted room tones would slow you down.  Which isn’t a bad thing – unless it leads you to linger a little longer at the table.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

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