If you are like most Americans, you may have come to assume that healthy dining options either mean tasteless, boring food choices (think steamed broccoli and boiled chicken) or hopelessly complex dietary plans. Sometimes we are even given outright contradictory information in the media regarding food. It seems that one day we are encouraged to eat more carbohydrates, the next, we’re told that they are to be avoided at all costs. The same applies to alcohol, coffee, saturated fat, and animal products. It’s no wonder that we often give up on nutritious eating altogether and fall back on old eating habits.
Fortunately, a new nutritional strategy has emerged which may actually enhance your enjoyment of the food you consume while eliminating the need for obsessive tracking. This is referred to as mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a new strategy embraced by nutritionists and dieticians, where we rely more on our bodies to indicate energy and nutrient needs. This theory suggests that if we simply take more time to savor our food, our bodies will automatically and effortlessly adjust to healthier eating patterns.
This means that someone who has long struggled with counting calories might naturally, almost magically, become more satisfied with smaller portions. Similarly, if you suffer from a lower appetite, you might find that taking the time to really savor the flavor and aroma of your food naturally increases the calories consumed.
If you’ve ever traveled internationally to a country that tends towards very long sit-down meals like France, you may have already experienced this phenomenon. Some experts would argue the dual tendency towards long, leisurely meals and top-of-the-line, fresh ingredients are the reasons why the French people enjoy such long and healthy lives!
Benefits of Mindful Eating
In addition to helping with appetite regulation, some scientists believe that eating mindfully allows our brain to fully process our food. When your body has the opportunity to take inventory, it may be able to send clearer signals to your conscious mind that you need more of a certain type of healthy food in your diet. For example, if you are a touch anemic and would benefit from consuming more iron, you might suddenly crave spinach, which is high in both iron and vitamin C, an important nutrient for iron absorption.
This sometimes comes as a surprise, as we might find enjoyment in brand new food combinations, even those we previously tried and didn’t care for. Slowing down to really take a meal in with all of your senses–sight, smell, taste, texture, appearance– allows foods like fresh produce and exotic spice combinations to become far more appealing!
This emphasis on enjoyment can also enhance the health benefits of the food we eat. Have you ever found that you return from vacation healthier than when you left? There is some evidence to suggest that eating in a relaxed manner, in addition to increasing your enjoyment, greatly improves your digestion. Sounds like a win-win!
Healthful Eating Tips for Seniors
Here are some tips for consuming meals more mindfully:
- Be kind to yourself, and consider mindful eating more of a game than a “chore.”
- Make sure to come to meals neither ravenous nor having spoiled your appetite with snacks. Different bodies prefer meals to be timed differently, so you’ll want to structure your eating timetable accordingly.
- Although the exact ratios may change, all meals should feature a balance of healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. If you tend to nibble purely on carbohydrates, that may indicate an emotional craving rather than true hunger.
- Eat slowly, and chew your food thoroughly. You’ll be surprised at how much more flavorful it is!
- Avoid watching television or talking on the phone at mealtime. However, if you wish, pleasant conversation seems to increase our enjoyment of meals.