by Emma Denton, MS, RD
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
These prompts are common in yoga and meditation, and could be a game changer before mealtime. Being more mindful is one of the healthiest resolutions you can make for both mental and physical wellbeing, and it’s captured in the 2016 National Nutrition Month theme: Savor the Flavor. Eloquently put by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “This year’s theme encourages everyone to take time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food can add to our lives.”
Mindful eating considers how, when, why and where we eat, not just what we eat. It allows you to be more in tune with your senses, especially taste, smell, and satiety. Practicing mindfulness at mealtime enhances your experience and relationship with food and prevents overeating.
How can you be more mindful when it comes time to eat? Remove distractions including your television, computer, smartphone, tablet, and reading materials. Plan regular meals and snacks throughout the day and spend time enjoying your food. Before picking up the fork, take a moment to focus on your breath, and relax. Take note of colors, smells, textures, and taste of course! Take small bites, chew thoroughly, and place your utensils down between bites. Eating at a slower pace can help you realize when you’re satisfied, but not overly full which eases digestion.
Being more mindful is certainly beneficial when improving your diet. To better understand healthy eating, every five years the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Along with providing recommendations for diet and physical activity based on the most current research, the 2015-2020 guidelines encourage individuals to make small changes toward a healthier lifestyle.
According to the Dietary Guidelines, healthy eating means making half your plate fruits and veggies, making half your grains whole grains and switching to low-fat and fat-free dairy products. While limiting added sugars and sodium, and both saturated and trans fats. Sugar should be no more than 10% of total calories (about 12 teaspoons or 48 grams per day), not including natural sugars like those found in fruit and milk. The cutoff for sodium is 2,300 mg per day (about 1 teaspoon or 6 grams of salt). Most processed foods, restaurant/fast foods, canned foods and cured meats contain large amounts of sodium as well. Saturated fat also has a limit of 10% of total calories, so cut back on meats, butter, whole milk, and coconut and palm oils. It is also suggested to make small shifts toward sources of protein other than red meat, poultry and eggs by incorporating seafood, seeds, legumes, beans and nuts into your diet.
Just the same as healthful, mindful eating, yoga increases awareness and nourishes both body and mind. Yes, healthy eating and physical activity are preventative against chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and obesity, but yoga reaps more unique benefits like lessening chronic back or neck pain, improving sleep and headaches, relieving stress and sharpening concentration. According to DHHS, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week plus muscle strengthening exercises at least two days per week. Yoga, brisk walking, water aerobics, gardening and shoveling snow are examples of moderate intensity activities.
As we strive for healthier lifestyles, we aim to eat right, be physically active and practice mindfulness, which means savoring the flavor, the movement, and the moment.
Emma Denton, MS, RD is a member of the Rhode Island Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatrightri.org) and currently works as an Early Intervention Dietitian. She studied exercise and nutrition sciences at The State University of New York at Buffalo and her interests include sports nutrition, stress management, and early childhood development.