Monday, May 1, 2017

Reconnecting the Mind and Body

A, 2007 Neil Winokur
By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

I will admit that I was hard-pressed to find a relationship between nutrition and this month's focus on sexual assault survivor's stories. So I was very appreciative of my colleagues Nancy Hall and Amy Grabowski for assisting me. Nancy told me that victims of sexual assault tend to disconnect from their bodies, similar to how an eating disorder can cause one to disconnect from his or her body while eating.

This disconnection between the mind and body during eating could also be thought of as a mindless process. One of my clients told me that there are many times in which she cannot remember tasting her food once the meal or snack is over. Which leads to the article Amy left me in my mailbox addressing how eating behaviors are changing; individuals are leaning more towards snacking multiple times per day, instead of three meals. While each of us has a preferred pattern of snacks and/or meals throughout the day, most of my client's equate snacking with mindless eating; but truthfully, it does not matter if the occasion is a meal or snack. Mindless eating could occur anytime, anywhere, and in any amount!

So how do you know when you are mindlessly eating? To start, you need to be mindful before the first bite goes into your mouth. The hunger-satiety scale, with 0 being completely empty and having physical symptoms of hunger (headache, dizziness), and 10 feeling uncomfortably full (cramps, bloating), often comes in handy when determining if you are physically hungry. A 0–4 usually indicates the need to fuel-up; you want to avoid reaching the 0–3 levels since extreme hunger could lead to bingeing. Eating until you reach 7–8 usually provides satisfaction without discomfort.

While the hunger-satiety scale works well for some, several of my clients with long-term eating issues are unable to identify these cues. If you struggle with this, ask yourself if there are feelings associated with the food you are about to eat. Are you feeling tense because a coworker made your day miserable and that candy bar in the vending machine looks appealing? Also, when did you last eat, and was it enough? If you ate more than four hours ago or ate lightly, physical hunger is probably setting in.

To summarize, here are some guidelines for mindful eating...
  1. Eat something every three to four hours.
  2. When possible, eat without distractions. 
  3. During your meal or snack, check in with yourself every five minutes and focus on how your food tastes and feels in your mouth.
  4. Before taking seconds, wait five to ten minutes; it takes your body a bit longer to let you know it has had enough.
  5. As you eat, try to focus on how your stomach feels. 
I know all of this sounds overwhelming, but with practice and patience, you will re-connect mind and body during meals and snacks. If you find that emotional eating occurs too often, find another activity besides eating to help cope. Several of my clients have found new hobbies, as well as a sense of accomplishment when they conquer their emotional eating struggles!

Michel Harris is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and serves on the staff of The Awakening Center. She believes in the mindful approach to develop a peaceful relationship with food and exercise in the recovery process of eating disorders. To find out more or to set up an appointment with Michel, call 773.929.6262.