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Plate Attention! Mindful Eating

Posted 12/15/2016 by UHBlog

Are you mindlessly eating to the point where you’re overly full and feeling rotten? Talk to us about how mindfulness practices can help.

Plate Attention! Mindful Eating

It’s easy to get lost in thought and distracted during the holidays. After all, you’re either planning your celebrations with family and friends or you’re thinking about your long list of to-do's. But when you do take time to eat, are you slowing down enough to really taste and savor your food?

You should, says mindfulness coordinator Suzanne Cushwa Rusnak, MEd, MSSA.

“When we're always lost in thought – projecting forward, or back into the past – we aren’t in the present moment living the only moment we actually have,” she says. “It’s natural for us to do this. It’s just not helpful. It increases our feelings of stress and dissatisfaction, and it can lead to overeating or unsatisfying meals.”

Instead, Rusnak recommends practicing mindful eating where you're actively present and “being in the moment” during the activity of eating.

“Mindful eating means bringing all of your senses to the experience of eating and drinking,” she says. “Look at the food, taking in its smells. Taste it and notice the textures. As you’re chewing, notice the flavors. Feel the fork in your hand. When you're eating mindfully, you're taking the time to pause and doing nothing else. You're intentionally changing gears – not thinking about the past or projecting into the future.”

When you eat with intention and attention, it makes you aware of why you’re eating and whether it's hunger – or something else – that is driving you to eat. According to Rusnak, people eat for several reasons – to satisfy their hearts, mind and/or body – but to know which, you have to pay attention. Depending on the type of hunger, there are techniques to use, including:

  • Hungry heart. “If the heart is hungry, you might be lost in a happy celebration or you may be sad or lonely,” she says. “During the happy occasion, food is part of the celebration, but be careful to not eat beyond fullness. If you're sad or lonely, try doing something different instead of eating, such as reaching out to family or friends or do something fun.”
  • Hungry mind. You may be bored or restless and want to eat because you need different stimulation. In that case, do something that interests you, such as reading a book or participating in a hobby you enjoy.
  • Hungry body. “If your body is hungry, you shouldn't deny yourself,” Rusnak says. “Choose something you feel good about eating and eat until you feel satisfied. Generally, it takes about 20 minutes for the body to feel satisfied and tell the brain it's full. If you continue eating, quite often you'll feel very full.”

The more you learn how to bring mindful attention to your daily activities, it will become something you do routinely. The end result is you’ll learn how to calm your mind and body and increase your sense of well-being.

Fortunately, mindfulness can be taught. University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network offers mindfulness programs at multiple locations throughout the year, including at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and Parma Health Education Center. You'll learn how to create an ongoing mindfulness practice and techniques to use in various situations. Additionally, you'll receive a journal/workbook and a CD. To learn more about this mindfulness programs, call 216-285-4070 or view our classes and events.

Suzanne Cushwa Rusnak, MEd, MSSA is the coordinator of mindfulness programming at University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network. You can request an appointment with Rusnak or any other health care provider online.

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