Karen's Blogs

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Memory, Appetite and Mindful Eating

If you do nothing else to improve your relationship with food, practice mindful eating. C’mon, now, it’s not that difficult to do. Trust me, it will speed your recovery faster than you’d ever believe. Think: more mindfulness, less food abuse.

According to Appetite may be driven by your memory by Melissa Healy (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/25/12), “Too much distraction, too little attention, food presentation—such as large dishes that distort our assessment of portion size—can play havoc with our food memories. And eventually…with our waistlines.” This conclusion comes from a study on actual versus perceived portion size in the journal Public Library of Science One. In the study, unbeknownst to participants, the researchers manipulated the amount of food they received. When questioned about their hunger later, after eating, “subjects’ memories of the meal they saw—not the one they ate—seemed to be most influential.” Even a day later, participants’ memories of what they’d seen themselves eat influenced their hunger or fullness. Without memory imprints, participants seemed “inattentive to the hormonal cues that are sending ‘stop eating, I’m full’ messages to the brain. Moreover, researchers have noted that mindless or distracted eating—the intake of food that might result in a fuzzy memory—also seems to override the effect of the body’s satiety signals.”

Mindfulness starts with food planning, that is, not making impulsive decisions about what to eat. Next comes how you serve food, and there’s no question that an attractive presentation on a small plate that is placed before you while sitting at a table will help you register your intake. Eating must be done with no distractions (none, zero, zip, zilch), slowly, chewing and letting food sit on your tongue. It also helps to put down food or utensils between bites, take deep breaths after each swallow, and clear your mind of anything but the process of eating. Think PBR—Pause, Breathe and Refocus.

If you’re not willing to practice mindful eating, I guarantee that you will not become a “normal” eater, in part, because what and how much you eat simply will not register in your brain. Take a minute to let that fact sink in. When studying French, you’re focused on the pronunciation and meaning of words. When learning to ski, your attention is on balance and muscle response to mental commands. And when learning to eat “normally,” you need to attend to all this activity involves. Why don’t you eat mindfully? What lies do you tell yourself to avoid mindful eating? What happens when you do eat mindfully? Do it for a meal, a day, or a week and see how it improves your eating.

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