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Mindful eating may help break unwanted habits in New Year

Stress eating at work
Mindful eating techniques can help reverse the habit of “stress eating” which many people fell into during 2020. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Now that 2020 is finally over, many people are still dealing with unwanted extra pounds gained during months of lockdowns. According to a recent survey conducted by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 47% of American adults report eating more due to pandemic-induced stress. Among millennials and members of Generation Z, that number is even higher … close to 60% in both groups.

While it’s easy to see how the cycle of “stress eating” gets going – especially under present circumstances – it may be harder to break it once established. Many health experts have outlined a simple strategy, called mindful eating, which could help eliminate those extra trips to the kitchen that became an unwanted habit for many of us in 2020.  

Contrary to stress eating – eating compulsively and quickly while feeling distracted – mindful eating is the act of fully focusing on every aspect of your food as you eat. It encourages you to pay close attention to the tastes, smells, and textures of your food as well as your body’s hunger and fullness cues. 

As basic as that sounds, the practice of mindful eating can be surprisingly effective. In one small study, 10 volunteers with obesity took part in weekly mindful eating classes that focused on paying close attention to their feelings of hunger and fullness. They also focused on their cravings and emotions around food. 

By the end of the three-month study period, not only did all participants lose an average of nine pounds, but they also reported less hunger, fewer episodes of binge eating, and lowered levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

In addition to taking meals more slowly and savoring the flavors and smells of your food, there are specific techniques that can help you achieve more mindful eating habits. Following are just a few, courtesy of Harvard Health:

• Create a calm, attractive space for eating to cultivate a more peaceful mindset, and eat all your meals in that space.

• At the beginning of your meal, set a timer for 20 minutes – then pace yourself to make your meal last until the timer goes off.

• During meals, discipline yourself to put away your phone, computer and other reading materials, and turn off the TV as well so you can fully concentrate on your food.

• Think only about the bite of food you’re actually eating instead of grabbing the next one. Put your fork down between bites, and chew each mouthful about 30 times.

• Before you fill your plate with seconds or dessert, pause for a moment and ask yourself if you’re really still hungry.

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