Savor, Celebrate and Pay Attention: 8 Lessons From the Eat Well Challenge

It’s not always easy to change your eating habits, but mindfulness can help you improve the quality of your daily diet, without food restrictions.

Photo Illustration by Andrew B. Myers for The New York Times
[ – 2022.02.07] Asking yourself this simple question: “How will eating this make me feel?” This will help improve the quality of your diet without the perils of food restriction.

One of the biggest challenges for chronic dieters is to stop restricting foods and listen to their bodies instead, according to Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian and a co-author of the popular book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach.”

 “There’s a tendency to become rule-based when you come from diet culture,” said Ms. Tribole. “Dieting is such a profound disruption between you and your body and trusting your body.”

This month, we’ve heard from hundreds of readers who texted us their own lessons for reshaping their eating habits. Here are tips from readers about mindful eating.

Eat on a fancy plate!

I love this tip for turning an everyday meal into a celebration. Creating a colorful and appetizing plate of food and reveling in the joy of cooking and eating are all ways to practice mindful eating. Studies suggest that the health benefits of Mediterranean-style eating, which includes an abundance of vegetables, olive oil and seafood, are likely enhanced by the tendency of people in the region to enjoy and savor their food and to turn every meal into a celebration with friends and family.

No more multitasking while eating.

Many readers have discovered they have a habit of looking at their phones, reading, doing work or watching television while eating. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your food while watching the Super Bowl or during family movie night, mindful eating is best achieved when your focus is on the meal.

“My biggest aha moment so far: slowing down and really being present while I eat,” shared a reader. “I put my phone or book elsewhere and just focus on the taste, smell, texture, look of my food. I enjoy the food so much more when I savor it!”

Put the fork down.

A number of readers shared this advice, noting that once they became more aware of their eating habits, they noticed that they had a tendency to scoop a new forkful of food before they even finished chewing. Learning to put the fork down between bites helped them focus on the taste and texture of their food, rather than the next bite. A consistent theme I heard from readers is that mindful eating also helped them to slow down at the dinner table, and made them realize how fast they had been gobbling down their food, a habit often learned in childhood.

Use smaller plates.

A number of readers have told us that using smaller dishes has helped them serve smaller portions and tune in to their body’s hunger and satiety signals. With smaller plates, seconds are still an option if you’re still hungry.

“American dinnerware is huge, and it’s really easy to fill the plate,” shared a reader. “Many of us were also trained by our parents to clean our plates, and so we don’t stop eating when we’re full.”

Never grocery shop while hungry.

Paying attention to hunger signals helped readers notice that it’s better not to shop for food while they’re hungry.

Ride the wave of food cravings.

For many readers, accepting that food cravings are normal has been a revelation. Evan Forman, a psychology professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and the director of the university’s Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science, teaches his clients to “ride the wave” of food cravings by identifying the craving, noticing how you feel and accepting it, rather than trying to suppress it.

“The simple visual concept of ‘riding the wave’ has been amazingly helpful for me,” said a reader. “I used it three times last night to overcome post-dinner snacking. Worked like a charm!”

Just add vegetables.

Some readers suggested adding more vegetables to meals — rather than restricting other foods.

“I vowed never to diet after having a daughter but rather eat healthfully and be active,” shared a reader who has focused on eating more vegetables. “I didn’t want her to obsess like my friends, sisters and I did.”

Get more sleep.

Mindful eating made several readers more aware of a tendency to snack at night and to snack more when they stayed up late. A number of studies show that foods can affect our sleep, and lack of sleep can affect our eating patterns.

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