Eat Well to Be Well: Try a mindful solution to your New Year’s resolution

2014-resolutionsrightThe number one New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. That’s probably not much of a surprise considering that approximately 67 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese. Losing weight is an admirable task to undertake as it means you want to get in better shape and to improve your health. However, the disappointing reality, according to the University of Scranton research, is only 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals.

Why is weight loss so difficult? There are many factors involved. The complexity of following certain diets, keeping junk food around, lack of self-efficacy or just life gets busy and demanding leaving little time to make good eating a priority. For many people, the thought of having to count calories or reduce food intake makes sticking with a diet undesirable.

If you want to lose weight but don’t want to count calories or follow complex rules of what you can or can’t eat, there is an alternative for losing weight that only involves becoming more mindful of what you are eating. It is called the Hunger/Fullness Technique or simply mindful eating. Many of us eat due to mindless or emotional eating. Think of the times you’ve sat down to watch TV with food and before you know it, you’ve eaten way more than you intended. We often eat mindlessly due to boredom, feeling depressed, anger, stress and often times soothe these emotions by eating – and it’s usually not with carrot and celery sticks! When we do mindless eating, we will often take in extra calories and over time, this will lead to weight gain.

By using the Hunger/Fullness technique, there is no calorie counting or eating do’s or don’ts. You simply learn to distinguish between a true physical craving for food or an emotional craving for food.

A physical craving feels like this:

  • You are physiologically hungry. You may be experiencing stomach growling, pangs or a hollow feeling or you may have a headache, lack of concentration, fogginess or fatigue.
  • It’s been several hours since the last time you ate something.
  • The craving doesn’t go away if you try to wait it out.
  • The craving will intensify over time.
  • Nothing you do will take away the craving except to eat food.

An emotional craving feels like this:

  • You are not physiologically hungry.
  • It does go away if you try to wait it out.
  • The craving does not intensify over time.
  • Doing something else satisfies the real need and the craving goes away.

Use the following Hunger/Fullness rating scale to tell whether you are truly hungry or not:

10 – Absolutely, positively stuffed

9 – So full that it hurts

8 – Very full and bloated

7 – Starting to feel uncomfortable

6 – Slightly overeaten

5 – Perfectly comfortable

4 – First signals that your body needs food

3 – Strong signals to eat

2 – Very hungry, irritable

1 – Extreme hunger, dizziness

Anything above a 5, you are not hungry and your body does not physically need food. If you are craving a food, it is emotional, not physical. If you are at a level 3 or 4, your body is telling you that it needs some food. The best time to eat is when you are at a level 3 or 4. You still have enough control to eat healthy foods and control your portion sizes. If you are at a level 1 or 2, your body is too hungry. If you wait until this level to eat, you will probably overeat or eat something that is not healthy. This scale can also be used when you are in the process of eating a meal. As you are eating, become aware of how your body is feeling physically. Determine what number you are at on the rating scale and stop eating when you get to a level 5. Any number higher than that means you are taking in more calories than your body needs.

When you are craving food, determine whether it is physical or emotional using the hunger/fullness scale. If it’s physical, go ahead and eat. If it’s emotional, here are some steps to take to make the craving go away rather than giving into the food:

  • Take a walk, garden, do relaxation exercises or yoga.
  • Drink a glass of water before giving into a craving.
  • Use the 10 minute rule. When you crave something, wait for 10 minutes for the craving to subside. During that time, do something to take your mind off the food.

The key to controlling cravings for food when you are not truly hungry is learning to recognize them. Then, you are able to set up an action plan to help you deal with them. Cravings are a normal part of life and it is important to handle them in a sensible manner.

Healthy eating is flexible. Giving into a craving, in moderation, can be part of a healthy eating pattern, as long as it does not get out of hand. Mindful eating takes practice and it won’t happen right away. But, the more you practice, the more you become aware of how your body feels and you can learn to put the fork down just at the point of feeling satisfied. Combining mindful eating with exercise makes a powerful duo in helping you achieve and stick with your New Year’s weight loss goals when everyone else has already abandoned theirs.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].


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