Know Exactly What To Eat And When With This One Technique

Registered Dietitian By Lisa Hayim
Registered Dietitian
Lisa Hayim, M.S. R.D. is a wellness enthusiast. She received her master's in nutrition and exercise physiology from Columbia University.
Know Exactly What To Eat And When With This One Technique

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While we are great at eating mindfully as infants, crying when we want food, pushing away food when we are full, this ability gets complicated as we age. It doesn't help that the diet advice for the past 20 or 30 years has told us must use "restraint" and "willpower" in order to achieve a certain look or a number on the scale. It's a mentality that leads to this conversation: "I want that chocolate chip cookie, but I shouldn't have's so fattening…fine I'll just have one bite…oh no I just ate the whole thing! Now I feel terrible…and it wasn't even that good…why did I do I will have to spend hours on the treadmill tomorrow…since I'm doing that, I may as well have these chips…." That kind of negative self-talk is not healthy for our minds or our bodies.

When we embrace mindful eating, the practice of slowing down and letting our bodies' cues guide our choices, we leave all that guilt and deprivation behind. Mindful eating is about understanding the nutritional makeup of food, identifying your body's language, fully savoring the experience of eating, and shedding all worry. Eating mindfully can help with weight loss/maintenance, eliminate digestive distress (such as gas, bloating, and bowel irregularities), and some evidence shows that it could even help with disordered eating and obesity.

In order to understand how to mindfully eat, we must identify all the reasons we may eat outside of our need for energy. Many people eat because they are bored, emotional, stressed, tired, procrastinating, just because the food is out, or because they are socializing. In many of these situations, it's hard to truly tune in and identify when we have had enough. Only you can make this call, so you have to listen closely to your body to know. Try these tips to become a more mindful eater. Remember, just like all things, go easy on yourself and remember that all great change take time.

Cultivate inner wisdom.

Get familiar with your blood sugar levels, your real feelings of hunger and satiety, and listen to what the body wants. Inner wisdom requires serious work to calm and quiet the chatter of your mind and the actual noise around you. It takes episodes of overeating to truly understand what it feels like when we are full and when we are hungry.

We have two important hormones that control hunger—ghrelin and leptin. To put it simply, ghrelin lets us know we are hungry, and leptin lets us know when we are full. Ghrelin signals our brain that we are hungry and need to consume food energy. It's associated with those hunger pangs, or feelings of emptiness in the stomach. When we are calm, we can actually feel this in our stomachs. When we start eating, the fat cells put out the hormone leptin, which signals the brain that we are full and that we should stop eating. But these hormones don't work immediately. It takes some time for these signals to be sent and registered. Which is why, slowing down, or often suggested "placing the fork down between bites" may be helpful. It's hard to really pinpoint this feeling when we are socializing, or at work where there are many distractions. I recommend eating without distractions like the television when you're at home. If you're at dinner, or at a party, find a place where you feel comfortable and can do a couple deep breaths to check in with yourself. I'm a fan of the bathroom, since it's quiet and I can be alone. I may retreat to this place in between courses, to check in with myself and really listen to what my hormones have told me.


Cultivate outer wisdom.

Outer wisdom is knowing the nutritional makeup of a food, its calories (or food energy), its properties, and its flavors. When we know the general composition of the food, we can make better choices. For example, if dinner is in two hours and you're feeling very hungry, 200 to 300 calories (depending on your metabolism and physique) might help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you comfortable until dinner without ruining your appetite.

Want to improve your outer wisdom? Start taking a look at nutrition labels and playing around with different types of foods. Coconut, a high-fat food, for example, will fill you up very quickly. Compare eating a coconut yogurt to a regular dairy yogurt by eating it slowly and feeling the change in your body. They may fill you up in different ways.

Accept that there are no "bad foods."

In the mindful eating philosophy, we believe there are no bad foods. Of course, there are foods that are more nutritious and foods that are less nutritious, but restricting any foods entirely only serves to make them more alluring. I, for instance, love French fries. But ever since I took off the restriction of "weekends only," I find I'm less intrigued. Plus, when I do have it, I'm less likely to binge on them.

Practice having an off-limits food in the house, or order it when you're out. Try taking a few bites without "chasing the flavor." When we tune in, we realize our brain and taste buds move faster than our minds. The taste and flavor dulls and will never be as intense as that first bite.

Take ownership over your choices.

If you choose to indulge, or eat more than you would have liked, don't guilt yourself. You will never ever be perfect at mindful eating. The goal is to embrace your decision and fully enjoy your food. Foods bring pleasure, even the ones you used to consider "bad." So once a choice is made, embrace it and enjoy it instead of ruining it with guilt after.

After trying that "off-limit food," practice the act of doing nothing. Don't rush to the gym or continue with the "throw in the towel" mindset. Simply sit with the idea that you just gave your body what it wanted. Now, pat yourself on the back.


You will always have a relationship with food: Make it a positive one.

There isn't a person on the planet who can escape this. The goal is to make the relationship a happy one instead of one you have to fight three times a day.

Sometimes food is, in fact, the proper thing to soothe us. It's certainly better than turning to alcohol or drugs. In some situations, I consider it an acceptable tool to turn to. However, there is a great opportunity to use "outer wisdom" here. If you want to just "go nuts" and eat mindlessly, choose something that is nutritious or has some nutritional benefit, like green beans or guacamole or even popcorn, which has some fiber.

Grocery shopping is an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

With so many distractions and deceptive marketing practices, it's the place where both wholesome and destructive decisions begin.

Tip No. 1: Don't go hungry! Seriously, every time I go to the grocery store hungry I end up eating while I'm there and purchasing three times the amount of food I actually needed.

Tip No. 2: It's also helpful to bring a list—this helps you stay on track. I try to put my phone away, too, when I food shop because I end up coming home with the wrong item (like regular almond milk instead of unsweetened) or entirely forgetting items I needed!

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