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Healthy Balance

Tired of Dieting? Try Mindful Eating

mindful eating, nutrition, healthy diet
When it comes to eating right, listen to your body.

When is the last time you really tasted your food? Lisa Goehler, PhD, has lost 30 pounds simply by paying attention to what she’s eating. She doesn’t deprive herself, she doesn’t count calories, and she doesn’t obsess over a number on the scale. She’s able to maintain a weight that’s healthy for her body, and she has never felt better.

Her secret? Mindful eating.

Say Goodbye to Calorie Counting

Goehler has a background in physiological psychology, and she’s been studying the connection between the brain and digestive system since grad school. When she found out that her fasting glucose was getting high – a risk factor for diabetes – she decided it was time to make a change.

With years of basic science research under her belt and a thorough understanding of biochemistry, Goehler knew that traditional dieting was not the route she wanted to take.

“I didn’t want to deprive myself, because that just doesn’t work,” Goehler says. “If you drastically cut calories, your body says, ‘Uh oh, we’re starving,’ and it holds on to what’s there. Our bodies are more worried about not getting enough food than getting too much.”

“Besides,” she continues, “I enjoy food. We all enjoy food. There is an emotional connection to food that is hardwired in all of us. We get emotional about food because our bodies know how important it is to our very survival. So rather than tell myself I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to eat certain foods, which takes the fun out of eating, I decided to slow down and start paying close attention to everything I was putting in my mouth. This one simple practice changed everything.”

What About Portion Control?

“We’ve all heard the advice about using a smaller plate or filling our plate with mostly vegetables,” says Goehler. “And while that’s good advice, it’s more important to get in tune with your body and actually feel what it’s like to be hungry and to be full. We’re conditioned to clean our plates or to eat at certain times of the day, even if we’re not truly hungry. Eating mindfully helps us get in tune with our hunger hormones so that we can work with them instead of ignoring them completely.”

The hormone ghrelin makes us feel hungry, and others, like serotonin, tell us we’re full. When you eat, it takes at least 20 minutes for your body to produce enough satiety hormones for you to feel full. Eating slowly gives your body time to feel satiated while keeping your portions in check.

“It’s important to get in the habit of asking yourself, ‘Am I still hungry? Do I really want to eat more?’ Eating becomes much simpler this way. If you’re still hungry, eat more. If you’re not, stop. Our bodies tell us what we need to do – we just have to listen to them.”

Savoring Food Is the Key

After months of eating mindfully, Goehler stepped on the scale at her doctor’s office and was amazed to see that she’d lost 30 pounds. The best part? She’d enjoyed every second of it.

Get Help Making Smart Food Choices

Contact the UVA Nutrition Counseling Center today.

“If you mindfully eat junk food and pay attention while you’re eating it, you get tired of it pretty quickly. Junk food is really pretty boring,” Goehler says. “Let’s say you’re craving a brownie. If you allow yourself to have the brownie and eat it slowly and savor every gooey bite, you’re more likely to get your fill after just a couple of bites. If we mindlessly eat things in a hurry, what’s the point of eating it at all if we don’t even taste it?”

She adds, “As you slow down and observe the food you’re eating, you start to notice and appreciate the flavors and textures. You taste every spice, every bit of garlic or salt – all of the things that make food delicious.”

Goehler believes eating this way helps to build a healthy relationship with food – one that’s more about quality than quantity, and pleasure rather than deprivation.

“I still eat macaroni and cheese,” she says, “and when I do, I enjoy every last bite. But I also eat plenty of nutritious, whole foods.

It’s common to associate ‘rewards’ with foods that are bad for us, but it’s the opposite; it’s far more rewarding to eat healthfully.”

She continues, “The more you pay attention to what you’re eating, the more you crave foods that will nourish you rather than harm you. Our bodies are smart, and we know what’s good for us. When you eat food that’s good for you, you feel good. And when you feel good, you want to continue to make good choices.”


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