Mindful Eating: How to Have Your Pie and Eat It, Too

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Will you celebrate the day devoted to the math constant by having 3.14 slices of pie? How about having just one small slice and savoring it. Overlake dietician, Melicent Smith, talks about practicing mindful eating.  

The definition of dieting is to restrict oneself to small amounts of food in order to lose weight, or to eat according to a prescribed set of rules. Maintaining a diet takes endurance — diets have a lifespan that usually ends in a post-dieting binge. 

Dieting creates a cycle of restricting and denying ourselves foods we enjoy, then breaking the rules, which results in intense cravings, overeating and guilt. Some people are in some point of this cycle for the majority of their lives. The cycle teaches us to not trust or truly listen to our bodies, and creates an unhealthy relationship with food and a sluggish metabolism.

Failing at your diet makes you feel bad about yourself and often leads to emotional eating or binge eating. Dieting effects our self-esteem, making us think, “If only I had more willpower,” or “I just need to try harder next time.” You tell yourself you’ll start fresh tomorrow, but the night before you end up eating all the foods that will be off limits tomorrow. True confession: I have polished off the last of the ice cream and cookies the night before starting a diet, just so I won’t be tempted once my diet starts.

It's Time to Approach Eating Differently 

Diets don’t work. Eventually you break the rules. But what if there were no rules? Throw the rules out the window and forget “don’t eat after 6 p.m.,” “don’t eat grains,” “only eat protein,” “don’t eat dessert,” “eat low carb,” “eat high fat,” etc.

We need to begin by making peace with food and creating a new relationship that gives you unconditional permission to eat and nourish both body and mind and fuel your life. This new relationship is based on mindfulness and awareness. Eating mindfully, we recognize hunger and fullness and really tune in and listen to our bodies. We eat what we are truly hungry for.  

Quite often, eating is based on external cues in our environment such as seeing the candy bowl on your coworker’s desk, snacking while watching TV, attending social events, eating out of boredom, treating ourselves after a hard day at work or even just because it’s time to eat.

How Can I Practice Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating starts by turning inward and listening to your body’s physical and emotional cues. Before you eat, pause and be aware of any sensations of physical hunger. Your body lets you know that you are physically hungry by low blood sugar, fatigue or a growling stomach. Once your meal begins, slow down, sit down, put away your phone and pay attention to your meal. Look at the color and texture of the food, breathe in the smells of the foods, think about the process of growing the food and preparing the food. Pause between bites and gauge fullness as you go.

Fullness is measured by filling up the space in the stomach fulfilling physical hunger. However, we need to go beyond fulfilling physical hunger and be truly satisfied after a meal in order to end the vicious diet cycle. A meal can satisfy physical hunger but leave you craving dessert. Mindful eating tells you to satisfy the craving instead of trying to suppress it. By being aware and present while eating, psychological hunger can be met with only a small amount of the craved food. Our bodies and minds deserve to enjoy eating guilt free!

Instead of focusing on what you eat, take the time to focus on how you eat. Practice self-compassion by recognizing what you need. Mindful eating brings awareness, a sense of control and no food rules. If you’re a parent, I also remind you that you are a child’s first teacher and have a lot of power to shape their attitudes and beliefs about body image. Be active and eat well for health, not size.

Mindful eating takes practice, so if you’re going to treat yourself to a slice of pie on Pi day, try eating it mindfully by following these steps:

  • Keep an open mind and focus all of your attention on the slice of pie. Close your eyes, and take three slow breaths.
  • Bring your attention to the slice. Notice the colors and shape. Pretend as if you have never seen a slice of pie before.     
  • Imagine what it took for this piece of pie to get to you. You may choose to be aware of gratitude for those involved in creating this pie, or yourself, if you made it.
  • Slowly cut a bite of pie with your fork. Listen for sounds. Notice the movement of fingers and arm muscles you use to bring the bite to your mouth.
  • Raise your fork with the bite of pie to your nose and smell it. Breathe in several times and focus on the different smells. Notice any memories, sensations or reactions in your body.
  • Place the bite of pie into your mouth without chewing or swallowing it. Notice the flavor and the textures.
  • Slowly begin to chew. Notice any sounds as you chew. Continue to be aware of flavors and textures.
  • When you are ready, swallow and notice the sensation of the food entering into the stomach. Notice any lingering tastes or sensations.
  • Now take a moment to consider the experience. How do you feel physically and emotionally? 

Contributed by Melicent Smith, MS, RDN. Watch Melicent speak about Mindful Eating at Overlake's Eastside Women's Symposium in the video below.

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