Making Your Eating Mindful

To say 2020 has been different than most years is putting it lightly.  Maybe you’ve found your eating habits have changed.  Maybe you’re eating different foods, eating more than usual, or maybe you’re eating less.  Or if you’re like me, you’ve made more batches of peanut butter cookies than you can count.  Sometimes we find our eating is not always related to our hunger.  Often times our eating is driven by emotions such as boredom, stress, or the array of emotions we experience when living through a pandemic.  During times of increased stress, our need to soothe feelings with food can increase.  And sometimes we find the opposite is true, during the time of increased emotions we lose our appetite. 

So how do we know if we’re eating due to hunger or some other reason?  There are a few things that differentiate true hunger from emotional-based hunger.  Often when we’re eating due to uncomfortable emotions, our hunger comes on quick versus if we’re truly hungry. True hunger usually comes on slower and we feel that familiar grumble in our stomach telling us it’s time to eat.  Usually, if we’re truly hungry and we eat, the need to eat is gone.  Typically when we eat as a result of emotions, food never fills the void.  It’s like the itch you can’t scratch.  There are several things we can do to help us recognize and reduce some of our emotional eating such as:

  • KEEP A FOOD AND FEELING JOURNAL:  Write down what you plan on eating before you eat it.  Also, write down how you’re feeling at the time.  Food journaling can help you recognize patterns in your eating such as frequent nighttime eating related to boredom or going too long between meals.
  • TAKE 5:  When you recognize you’re about to eat due to a reason other than hunger, take a 5-minute pause.  Choose something else to do during this time such as drinking some water, clean a small area of your home, or just step outside and change your environment.  Often doing another activity can distract us when we’re not truly hungry.  Sometimes just hitting the pause button before turning to food can give us time to step back and reevaluate why we’re eating and if we really need to eat.  And sometimes we need that food!   
  • EAT CONSISTENT MEALS EVERY DAY: Try to eat three meals every day and don’t go long periods without eating.  Eating regular meals helps us distinguish between true hunger and emotional hunger.

It’s not bad to use food to ease our emotions.  Many of us can think of a time we ate outside our hunger. Like snacking on a bag of chips during a TV show or indulging in some ice cream because it was a bad day.   However, if you find food tends to be your main coping mechanism and you’re having difficulty navigating your emotions, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.  At CHAS we have behavioral health specialists at our clinics that are here to help you.

One way we can recognize emotional based eating is to practice mindful eating.  Eating mindfully involves an awareness of our eating, recognizing in the moment without judgment what, why, and how we are eating.  The Center for Mindful Eating describes mindful eating as being aware of the nourishment opportunities available through food, acknowledging our food likes and dislikes in a nonjudgmental way, and honoring our physical hunger and fullness cues.1   Sounds pretty good but how do we start?  Below are some ways you incorporate mindful eating into your meals during the day.

PUTTING MINDFUL EATING INTO PRACTICE:

  • HUNGER CHECK:  Before you start eating ask yourself how hungry are you?  Maybe you ate recently and aren’t really that hungry.  In this case maybe you don’t need to eat as much as a full meal would provide. 
  • SLOW DOWN: When we slow our eating, we can enjoy our food and pay attention to when we’re getting full.  Try sipping water throughout your meal, chewing your food well, and setting your fork down between bites to help extend your mealtime.
  • TAKE A MEAL HALFTIME: Checking in with our hunger throughout our meal helps us recognize when we’re getting full.  One way to do this is to take a pause when you’re halfway done with your meal.  I like to call this a meal halftime report.  Halfway through your meal take a minute to put your fork down and sip some water.  Ask yourself how full you feel.  Do you need more and if so, how much?  Maybe you just need a few more bites or maybe you need the rest of your meal. 
  • ENJOY YOUR FOOD: Take time to slow down and truly enjoy the taste and feel of the food in your mouth.  Most of us can think of a food we truly enjoy and can imagine how that food smells, tastes, and feels in our mouth.  Take time to appreciate these aspects of your food in the moment when you are actually eating it.

Like anything else in life, eating mindfully takes practice.  Consider starting by picking one meal each day to focus on your mindful eating practice.  You may forget one day and that’s okay!  One of the main principles of mindful eating is nonjudgment and this applies to the actual practice of mindful eating.  The next meal or the next day is another opportunity to practice your mindful eating.

1. https://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/

Jen Loweree, RD

Falling into Seasonal Produce

Falling into Seasonal Produce

Fall.  Autumn.  The change of seasons is marked by changing leaves and Pumpkin Spice flavored…..everything?  This year, don’t let pumpkin spice flavored oreos be your only seasonal food experience.  There are many seasonal vegetables and fruits that can help welcome the feeling of the cooler temperatures into our homes. 

There are benefits to eating produce when it’s in season beyond helping to usher in a new season.  When we choose in season produce we get the maximum nutritional benefits of those foods.  When foods are picked at the peak of ripeness, they contain their peak content of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.  Some phytonutrients in foods decline when stored for long periods of time. Phytonutrient is just a fancy word for the naturally produced chemicals from plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.  Antioxidants prevent or delay cell damage. This means that they keep us healthy for longer and also looking vibrant.  They reduce inflammation which contributes to chronic illness. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant.  Many of us know that Vitamin C can also be important in reducing the length of a cold or other winter illnesses.  Vitamin C is jam packed into many of our Fall grown produce.  All plants contain phytonutrients.  This includes whole grains, nuts, beans and vegetables and fruit.  Examples of seasonal vegetables and fruits are below, but including a variety of plant foods daily is good for overall health and wellness.

Fruits and vegetables are less expensive when purchased in season.  It takes less time and money for them to get to the store and that savings is passed onto the consumer.  Eating seasonally is one of the best things you can do to reduce your grocery budget while bulking up your nutrition. 

When trying to eat healthier, the most valuable thing we can do is make sure that our food is delicious! Eating delicious food every day helps us to sustain our healthier habits.  Eating produce in season is a way to ensure that your fruits and veggies taste their very best.  Lastly, eating in season also provides the opportunity to support local producers.  Supporting local farmers allows for more sustainable food production and also reduces fossil fuels used to transport items from across the world.  Below are some options for including seasonal produce that are usually available locally.  Enjoy the season this year by trying something new or by having a familiar food prepared in a way that is new to you.

Acorn Squash

One serving of Acorn Squash is an excellent source of Vitamin C.  The easiest way to prepare all your winter squash is to halve, scoop out seeds and then bake in the oven until soft.  The tender flesh can be scooped out of the shell and used as a side dish as is.  The shape of the acorn squash also provides the perfect bowl shape for stuffing with goodies such as a combo of Italian sausage and wild rice.  Winter squash is also wonderful for roasting.  Acorn squash can be sliced in strips and roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and seasonings to taste.  

Butternut Squash

Another delicious and slightly sweet winter squash, one cup has more than 100% of the daily value of Vitamin A along with being another excellent source of Vitamin C.  After baking, butternut squash makes a delicious, creamy soup.  It’s also wonderful roasted or topped with cheese and whole wheat breadcrumbs in a casserole.

Sweet Potatoes

Swapping a baked potato for a baked sweet potato is an easy way to increase your Vitamin A and Vitamin C intake for the day.  If you’re looking for more ways to include this versatile vegetable into every day eating, try slicing them thin and using as “toast” substitute or dicing and making a sweet potato hash. 

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts often get a bad reputation for being a least favorite food.  However, when not over-cooked, most people are able to change their opinion of this notorious vegetable.  If you’ve tried Brussels Sprouts before and found them mushy, try a dry heat for cooking.  Slice in halves and roast with olive oil.  You can also try parboiling (boiling for 1-2 minutes and then immersing in cold water to stop the cooking process) and then sautéing.  They can also be steamed, but careful not to overcook. Nuts are a perfect addition to Brussels Sprout.  Try toasted walnuts or almonds on top.

Parsnips

Parsnips look like a white (possibly more boring) carrot and are often overlooked.  Despite their similar shape, they are not from the same family of vegetables.  Parsnips have a lightly sweet flavor but with more of a spiced taste than their orange counterpart. When paired with carrots in a rich beef stew they can add depth of flavor.  They are also delicious when roasted with other fall/winter vegetables. 

Cool weather Greens (Kale, Chard, Spinach, etc)

Many dark greens such as kale and spinach get an improved, sweeter flavor when exposed to frost.  This makes them a perfect fall, winter and early spring vegetable.  We all have heard of the benefits of brightly colored greens and now is a perfect time to add them to the rotation.  A more hearty, winter salad can be assembled by starting with kale and adding toasted walnuts, goat cheese, dried cranberries, topped with sliced steak.  Add Kale or Spinach to smoothies or toss greens into soups for a nutrition boost.

Pears

Pears are an excellent source of fiber with a good mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber.  Getting enough of both fiber types can help regulate blood sugar, increase satiety, improve bowel regularity and keep Cholesterol in a healthy range.  Pears make for a perfect snack on their own anytime but also can be added to smoothies, as a topping for oatmeal or as a salad topping.   And don’t forget pear desserts such as crisps or carmelized pears as a topping for ice cream.

Apples

It would not be the Fall season without trips to the pumpkin patch and apple picking.  The Northwest is home to many apple varieties.  Apple cider simmering on the stove immediately makes the home feel like Autumn.   This year, try apple chips baked in the oven at a low temperature until they dry and crisp.

Cranberries

Cranberries are always featured on the Thanksgiving table but not given much thought the rest of the year.  Washington and Oregon are two of only about five states that grown cranberries in the U.S.  Fresh cranberries can be added to baked goods and in crisps.  Dried cranberries are wonderful in fall-themed salads and as a topper for oatmeal.  They can also be tossed into savory dishes such as stuffed squash to add a hint of sweetness. Cranberries are a phytonutrient rich berry in the same family as blueberries.  Their bright red color signals hidden nutrition benefits. 

Aren’t we glad to live in a world with fall and all the bountiful produce that it delivers to our tables?

by Heather Blazier, RD, CDE