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9 Ways to Become a Mindful Eater

In this excerpt of Dr. Jean Kristeller’s new book, The Joy of Half a Cookie, learn how to develop a healthy relationship with food.

Enjoy your food with these 9 ways to become a mindful eater
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Excerpted and adapted with permission from Dr. Jean Kristeller’s new book, The Joy of Half a Cookie (Perigee 2015):

Think of what happens when you order a tub of popcorn at the movies. You bring it to your seat. You sit down. Then your hand continually travels from the tub to your mouth and back again, mostly without your awareness. 

And then, eventually, your hand reaches the bottom of the tub, roots around for some kernels, and finds none. This can even happen when the popcorn is old and stale. Depending on the size of the popcorn bucket, you may have just eaten 1,200 calories, the equivalent of two personal pan pepperoni pizzas. Yet you’re left with a sense of longing, as if you didn’t get enough. This is mindless eating.

If we ate mindlessly only at the movies, it might not be such a problem, but we tend to eat mindlessly much of the time. Just the sight, smell, or thought of food can lead us to the cookies, chips, or snack bowl, allowing us to insert hundreds and even thousands of excess calories into our mouths but not truly enjoy most of them. 

Worse, mindless eating often leaves us feeling unsatisfied, even emotionally empty, and yet at the same time uncomfortably full. That’s because, when we eat mindlessly, we remain out of touch with the signals our bodies give us. Our bodies communicate with us all the time, giving us important input that we can respond to with wisdom as long as we learn to listen. 

Mindfulness is a habit, one that The Joy of Half a Cookie will help you to develop. Practicing mindful eating will help you weaken the more common pattern of mindless eating. 

Here are 9 principles to cultivate the habit of mindful eating:

1) Listen to your body.

No one can tell you how hungry you feel or when you’ve eaten enough to feel full. Once you tap into your inner wisdom–informed by your hunger, satisfaction, and enjoyment–and balance it with outer wisdom–informed by knowledge about food energy and nutrition, you’ll make the wise, but flexible decisions for your health, your weight, and your life.

2) Use your thoughts and feelings to inform yourself, not punish yourself.

Rather than constantly being caught up in “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” learn to open yourself up to the way your body, your eating habits, your desire for certain foods, your cravings, and your moods really are, rather than the way you think they should be. Notice them with nonjudgmental awareness. This awareness will help you make wiser decisions about whether you really want something and how much of it will satisfy you.

3) There are no bad foods.

Yes, some foods might contain more nutrients than others, but no foods are completely off limits (unless they need to be, for you). When part of a balanced diet, small tastesof your favorite foods do not lead to weight gain or disease. You really can indulge (modestly), without guilt. There are no absolutely right or wrong foods to eat, but rather varying degrees of value and satisfaction from what you choose.

4) Calories do count.

If you know about the energy value in the foods you eat or want to eat, your own energy needs, and the health effects of certain foods, you’ll be able to make wiser decisions about which foods and how much are most appropriate for you and why. You’ll be able to choose foods you love in amounts that satisfy, while you opt to forgo other foods that you don’t love or need quite as much.

5) Your inner and outer wisdoms work together.

By being gently aware of your thoughts, emotions, and triggers to eat as they arise, you’ll create space to consider what you wish to do about them. Sometimes you may decide to eat a little bit. Sometimes you might decide to eat more. The choice will vary from moment to moment and situation to situation, with mindfulness as your guide.

6) Relying on willpower and guilt leads to dissatisfaction and struggle.

Exchange willpower and guilt for exploration and understanding, and invite yourself to get in touch with all of the thoughts and emotions–positive and negative–that call up a desire to eat.

7) You’ll always have a relationship with food.

Whether it’s a positive one or a negative one depends onthe state of mind you bring into every bite.

8) Joy can be found in every bite.

When you become mindful, you can bring joy back into every bite, as you savor your experience, nurturing yourself and respjecting the food that brings you life and energy.

9)Your life is about much more than how you eat.

Develop a relationship with food that is nourishing and in balance with the rest of your life. Rather than being in constant struggle, you’ll experience a sense of freedom, knowing that you are the one who is in charge and recognizing that your life is about far more than your concerns about eating or your weight.

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