By Pamela Peeke, MD
You hear it all the time: “Eat mindfully and you’ll not only enjoy your meal, but it’ll be easier to shed weight.” Sounds like a win-win. But most of us hop out of bed at O’Dark Hundred and hit the ground running. We race out the front door either skipping a meal, doing a grab-and-go, or engaging in a bit of dashboard dining. Regardless, we’re usually stuffing food into our mouths…mindlessly. It’s hard to taste and savor when within seconds a meal or snack is gulped and out of sight. It’s also hard to drop that excess weight when our frenzied feasting doesn’t allow enough time — 20 minutes — for the mind to register you’ve eaten enough to satisfy your body’s needs.
Mindless eating like this messes with four key “friends” in our own body chemistry that work together to help us sense fullness and rein in over eating:
1) Cholecystokinin (CCK) is an intestinal hormone that tells the brain you’re in the process of consuming food.
2) Leptin is a fat cell hormone that monitors your fat storage and directs the brain to stimulate more or less eating based upon your energy needs. CCK and leptin work together to produce a sense of fullness.
3) Grehlin is a stomach hormone that stimulates appetite for more food, based upon the brain’s communication with CCK and leptin.
4) Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter that works in concert with CCK to enhance your sense of pleasure and reward from eating.
By slowing down your eating pace, you allow your own body/brain chemicals to work optimally. Your reward is better enjoyment of your food and, studies have shown, far fewer calories consumed.
You can practice mindful eating anywhere. Always make certain you’re not overly hungry before eating by keeping up with your every 3-4 hour snacks and meals throughout the day. Next up, put that fork/spoon down after every bite. Take a breath and savor the moment.
The best way to practice mindful eating is at home. And here’s the catch: If you want to do this well, do some cooking. Yes, that means spending a little time in the kitchen preparing and then enjoying the fruits of your labors. Science shows that people who cook more drop more weight.
To help guide us on this mindful journey, I turned to my good friend Chef Chad Luethje, executive chef at the Miraval destination spa resort, famous for its mission to encourage people to be mindful and present as they live their lives. I’ve known Chef Chad for many years and have discovered countless handy tips, tools, and techniques while attending his demonstrations. I’ve also waited patiently for him to finally put it all together in a book. At long last “Mindful Eating” (Hay House 2012) landed on my doorstep and I dived in to find nuggets I can now share with all of you. Here are some highlights to help get you started.
1) Cooking is not rocket science. Don’t break out in nervous hives at the thought of cracking open a cookbook and trying some of the recipes. Perhaps the last time you boiled water or cooked an omelet dinosaurs ruled the earth. No worries. Establish a new attitude and look forward to having fun. Start with a few simple recipes that entice you. Build your own repertoire of snacks and meals from there. Don’t be afraid. You can do this.
2) De-Clutter your kitchen. Cobwebs in the pantry? Dust balls rolling around your pots and pans? Microwave functioning on overdrive? You’re not alone. Welcome to the new American kitchen. First things first.
a) Get rid of the processed and refined foods. Purge your cabinets, fridge and freezer of these unnatural science fair projects.
b) Pitch your ancient foods. Look at the expiration dates on any foods you’re keeping. I’ll bet you’ve got some scary museum-grade goodies for the garbage can.
c) Open up your working space. To cook, you need open spaces to work. De-clutter your counter tops. Seeing lots of wide open surfaces helps you feel less stressed, more creative, and organized.
3) Get the right tools. Most people are clueless about what equipment they actually need to cook with. Chef Chad to the rescue with some helpful hints.
a) Bag the knife block. Instead of laying down a lot of cash for that usual block of knives, Chef Chad says all you really need are a quality 8- or 10-inch chef’s knife, thin cleaver, long serrated knife, a 3-inch paring knife, and a carving knife.
b) Pots ‘n pans. The Miraval team recommends stainless-steel-lined pans with an aluminum core. They heat quickly and evenly. Nonstick pans are OK only if you hand wash them and keep an eye out for scratches, which can expose you to the toxic chemicals used to make the coating.
c) Mixing bowls. You’ve got options here — stainless steel, ceramic, and glass. Stainless steel may not go into the microwave like glass, but it tends to be more durable.
d) Heavy Lifting. You need a good perforated metal spoon for stirring stocks and soups. Silicone spatulas that can handle high heat are essential. Lift and turn hot foods with scalloped-edged tongs.
e) More. From food processors to vegetable peelers, there are many more suggestions in the book.
4) Let’s cook! The following is a sampling of cool cooking tips to spice up your mindful journey.
a) Kosher salt’s larger granules take longer to shake out than iodized, so you consume less salt. Plus Kosher salt tastes better and contains 30% less sodium than iodized.
b) Don’t pour oil straight from the bottle. Use less oil by reaching for a plastic spray bottle instead.
c) Herb it up to enhance taste. Dried herbs have more concentrated flavors so use them first. Fresh herbs are added last as their flavors dissipate faster.
d) You don’t need regular high-fat mayo when you can combine three parts plain nonfat yogurt to 1 part reduced fat mayo. No one will ever know!
Here are some general secrets for success for those of you embarking on your mindful eating journey:
1) Sit down and turn off the TV, don’t answer the phone, and get away from the computer while you’re eating. Distractions of any kind foster mindlessness.
2) To become aware of slowing down your racecar pace of eating, use your non-dominant hand and/or use a smaller fork or spoon on a smaller plate. For grins, use a timer to see how long you can go between bites.
3) Watch your portion size by using measuring cups. Almost everyone underestimates how much they really dole out on a plate. Keep a set of measuring cups around — ¼ and ½ cups are great to start with.
Finally, try to integrate mindfulness into all of your daily activities. When you walk, be mindful of your surroundings, inhaling floral aromas and the green spring and summer vistas. Listen carefully to people as they speak to you, being mindful of their body language and verbal cues. It’s amazing how much we miss when we’re not living in the moment. Start this mindful journey with small, gradual steps. I guarantee you’ll be rewarded with a life — and meals — you’ll savor for a lifetime.