By Claudia Drum
Registered Dietitian, Army Public Health Center
Thanks to our jam-packed schedules and laptop lunches, more and more of us are gulping down our meals in record time. According to an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the “Road Runner” style eating can disrupt chemical signals of fullness which may lead to overeating and obesity.
If you shovel in bite-after-bite in rapid succession, you can pack in a lot of extra calories during the 15-20 minutes that it takes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. On the other hand, when you eat slowly and stay focused on your food (how it looks, tastes, smells and feels in your mouth), you are more likely to listen to your body and stop eating when you feel satisfied rather than overeating to the point that you feel uncomfortably full.
This year, resolve to downshift during mealtime to help you eat less and shed those extra pounds. Consider these techniques to help you slow down and enjoy your food more, but eat less:
• Start your meal hungry, but not starving. Starting a meal when you’re ravenous increases the likelihood that you’ll wolf down your food. Have a small, high-protein/high-fiber snack (i.e., a fresh apple and a piece of string cheese or a handful of veggie sticks with 1-2 tablespoons of hummus) between your meals to avoid being overly hungry at mealtime.
• Use smaller dinnerware. We eat 92 percent of what is on our plates. Use a nine–inch plate and smaller bowls and glasses to help you effortlessly serve yourself less and take in fewer calories.
• Turn off” the screen. “Tune in” to your meal. Sit in a location away from digital distractions like phones, computer tablets, TV, etc. When your attention is diverted by other activities, you may not notice how fast–or how much–you are eating.
• Go green. Load up half your plate with fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies (especially fresh) take longer to eat, and they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, water and fiber which will help you fill up without weighing you down.
• Follow these steps and take a “breather.” 1) Take a small bite of food. 2) Place your utensil on the table or plate and release it from your hand. If you’re eating hand-held food such as pizza, sandwiches, bagels or cookies, take one bite and then put the rest of your food down while you chew. 3) Chew your food thoroughly and pay attention to its taste and texture. 4) Swallow what is in your mouth before preparing the next bite. 5) Sip your beverage and take a deep breath. Use this moment to “check-in” with yourself and note your feelings of fullness. Repeat steps 1-5 with each bite of food.
• Aim for a “6.” On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is starving and 10 is stuffed, aim for a 6 (just satisfied or just starting to feel full). When you’re at a 6, stop eating and immediately ask for a “to-go box” if you’re dining out, or push yourself away from the table if you’re at home. Gauge your fullness by how you feel NOT by how much food is left on your plate.
• Dim the lights and listen to some jazz at meal time. Researchers from Cornell University discovered that diners who ate in a more relaxing atmosphere (softer music and “mood lighting,”) not only ate less, but also rated their food as more enjoyable.
• Be mindful and less mindless. Time your meals with a watch or kitchen timer until you get used to the slower pace, and consider meditating on a routine basis. Meditation can help you eat less by helping you feel more calm and centered. It may also help relieve anxiety, depression and stress as well as improve your memory.
Use the new year to find the right balance during your meals and to enjoy your meals (and maybe even shed some extra pounds). Learn more about how to control your weight through healthy sleep, activity and nutrition.