Updated: Aug 24, 2018
Do you grab munchies from the break room without thinking, get a snack every time you pass the kitchen, or eat when you aren't even hungry?
Have you ever wondered where your cravings come from or why its so difficult to stop yourself from giving in to them?
Looking for answers? Please, read on.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is not a diet or menu, it is a way of learning good food habits. It involves being aware of the food choices you're making, and reasons why you're making them. Strategies for mindful eating can be used as tools to positively influence food consumption, #managecravings, help control triggers and setbacks to eating healthy, manage weight, and promote your health.
Children, Teens, and Mindful Eating
While #mindfuleating works for all age groups, it works especially well with kids and teens and can help reduce the risk factors of chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Research shows that 1 in 5 children aged 6-19 years in the US are obese. Practicing mindful eating strategies at a young age may help reduce the risk of trouble with diet control later in life.
Seven Tips for Mindful Eating at Family Meals:
Pay attention to what, when, where and how much you eat.
Sit down at the table to eat your meals without the distraction of electronic devices (phone, tablet, computer, and TV). Distractions make us likely to eat more than we need because we don’t notice when we are full.
Distinguish between actual hunger versus non hunger triggers of eating (Read more about non hunger triggers below).
Eat slowly by chewing foods, do not rush meals. Allow your brain time to receive the signal that your stomach is full.
Engage your senses by noticing the color, taste, shape, texture, and aroma of foods.
Stop eating when you're satisfied, not full or stuffed. Avoid pressuring children to eat more than they want to eat.
Begin by practicing mindful eating at snack times, and gradually try a meal to slowly make mindful eating a part of your routine.
Adults, and Mindful Eating
Given advancements in tech toys and apps (an addiction of my own), a wide availability of food choices, and the massive amounts of money dumped into marketing of food products, a lot of the above strategies for mindful eating with children and teens also applies to adults.
In addition, its important to recognize that the human body craves consistency. A person might get off a healthful routine by eating extra sweet or fatty or salty flavors. The following day, or up to three days later, the body might look for that same trigger in other forms, leading to conscious or subconscious cravings for foods that fit a similar flavor profile. Makes sense?
Why do we Crave?
So what causes #cravings? There could be many triggers. The most common ones I have already mentioned above are generally brain and memory controlled, oftentimes affecting how your body balances hormones to control hunger, satiety, and digestion [Read: hormones ghrelin, leptin, insulin].
There are many things that may fire up a craving: a post that you scrolled through, a smell as you passed a restaurant, a taste on the tongue, or a triggered fond memory of your past...
An often overlooked craving trigger is flavor balance, a trick of the tongue and brain.
Your tongue has taste buds to sense salty, sour, bitter, and sweet. The combination of these flavors, coined as "umami," exists naturally in mild forms in meats and cheese, but can be created by combining different foods together or by adding monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common additive in packaged snacks and soups.
When the tongue senses a disbalance of flavors, like a food being extra sour or missing the sweet component, the tongue communicates with the brain to stimulate cravings-- so you eat more of the flavor that your meal may have been lacking. The converse is also true: if your meal was extra salty (like fast food), you'll typically crave something extra sweet and/or fatty to balance out the #umami- adding a sweet drink, or seeking a sweet snack afterward.
So if you're accustomed to an unnaturally high threshold of flavors (fried food, snack food, or sweet drinks), chances are that your cravings for these complementary flavors will also be unnaturally strong, and so will be the amount and strength of flavors you need to balance them out. Have you ever wondered why burgers and pizza taste so much better with a soda or iced tea? Your taste buds and their #foodtriggers are your best friend and also your worst enemy.
Don't stress too much, however. Taste buds naturally live on your tongue for around two weeks, then they die and new ones grow in their place. There's a constant turnover: your newer taste buds won't have a memory of your old eating habit. So changing your habits is tough at first, but after a couple weeks it gets progressively easier. Just stick with it.
The last main reason why we crave is usually related to the adequacy of our diet.
If you've gotten enough fluids, protein, fat, soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals, your cravings at the end of the day and the following morning will usually be under control, or at the least, easily satiable.
How to Singe the Binge?
Since we are constantly fighting this battle with food, how can we make it a battle that we WIN?
Think about cravings, habits and triggers when you eat and when you are looking for snacks. Try to think about what you may have eaten or not, what you've seen, heard, smelled, or remembered that may be triggering the temptation. It'll be easier to resist the craving if you know why its occurring.
Stopping the cycle of overeating, learning how to eat mindfully, and controlling food addictions takes time.
Though its a process to cut out junk food and kick bad habits, eating fewer unnatural flavors, keeping meals balanced, and identifying our guilty diet trends and triggers can help us gradually become stronger in resisting temptations and avoiding bad food habits on a normal basis. If you've been working hard all month to practice mindful eating, but an occasion arises where you know you'll go off your healthy routine, go for it. Revisit your cravings in the weeks after the event, resume eating mindfully and use the event as a way to practice your mindfulness and internal strength with food.
We live in a world where almost every culture socializes and celebrates through eating. We must continue to live and enjoy our lives, but gradually learn to find the balance with healthfulness.
That being said, If you're at a party, and its a special occasion, EAT! Don't sit in a corner all night eating celery by yourself. Try your best to keep meals balanced with vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, but if your meat is fattier or your grain more starchy than usual, don't worry. You're there to have fun. Get back on your healthy routine at the next meal.
Need more answers? Talk with me if you want more advice, interpretation, strategies, meal plans, or to help walk you through some of your own potential triggers.