During the holidays, I often hear people share feelings of fear and worry regarding all the foods that they are going to be surrounded by. They are worried about gaining 10 pounds. Worried they are going to feel awful. Worried all their hard nutrition work over the past month(s) will be dissolved in the matter of two days.
When discussing these concerns, I often talk with my clients about mindful eating practices to implement and practice. Mindful eating is not a diet, but rather a lifestyle approach. It can greatly help with weight management, but this is not the goal or focus. It is based on gaining control and enjoyment over eating decisions, and decreases the fear and guilt around food. It teaches to be non-judgmental with yourself and your food. And further, to tune into your body, so that you know that you have the choice over whether something was worth enjoying or not.
For example, say a client were to eat a piece of homemade blueberry pie, but then gets gas and bloating the full 12 hours after and is extremely uncomfortable. That person would then have to decide if that pie was worth it, and what they might do in that situation next time. For some, maybe it was. And for others, it was not.
Vice versa, maybe at a holiday dinner, you fill up half your plate with vegetables, have some protein, and a smaller piece of dessert. You notice that you have energy for many hours after, while the rest of your family and friends seem to be crashing. This is great feedback to the mind and body. If you instead ate something that left you crashing, then you could tune in and decide if it was worthwhile or not.
Research shows that mindful eating improves body image, self-esteem and quality of life. Further, it's shown to decrease depression, anxiety and binge-eating. It allows us to understand why we eat, and provides us with the tools to manage our appetite when we aren't truly hungry.
There are numerous mindful eating tools, and I want to share one of my favorites with you today. When clients embrace this tool, they often tell me that it's life changing. And the best part? You can practice it ANYWHERE!
The tool is called the hunger scale, below. To use the tool, you'll want to rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. A one means you're extremely hungry, and a ten means extremely full.
The ultimate goal is to always stay in the shaded green area, between 30% and 80%, so hungry to comfortably full. If you get too hungry, you'll likely overeat or make poor food choices (in particular, higher refined carbohydrate/sugar filled options due to the body wanting some quick fuel). Being too hungry will also decrease your mental performance.
If you eat past 80%, your body just doesn't need the additional food. The Japanese have a saying called Hara Hachi Bu, or eat until 80% full. Some of the elders still say this before every meal, and you could too!
With the goal of staying in the shaded gre