By Jessie Valentine
Did you know that this past week was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week? Eating disorders are more common than you think, especially on college campuses. The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, characterized by severe restriction of food intake leading to weight loss of more than 15 percent normal body weight, Bulimia Nervosa, characterized by compulsive self-induced vomiting or other compensatory behaviors after eating, and Binge Eating Disorder, where sufferers will consume large amounts of food without compensating, while feeling out of control during binge eating episodes.
Individuals who suffer from eating disorders often feel anxious and depressed about food, their weight, and about having an eating disorder in general, among other things. While there are many factors that can lead to the development of an eating disorder, disordered eating habits are prevalent and something to be aware of.
Most of us face pressure to lose weight, keep fit, or stay a certain size, and our eating behavior is greatly influenced by external sources. While dieting and monitoring calorie intake is a great way to keep tabs on how much food is needed to maintain, lose, or gain weight, the practice of mindful eating is rarely discussed.
Mindful eating involves paying close attention to the physiological sensations of hunger and fullness, as well as your mental and emotional states before, during, and after eating. Combined with a proper diet, using mindful eating techniques is one way to get in touch with yourself, and perhaps pinpoint the situations and stressors that could lead to some not-so-healthy eating behaviors, such as under- eating or binge eating during times of stress.
Repeatedly engaging in under-eating or binge eating can sometimes lead to a full-blown eating disorder. It’s important to focus on what food is intended to do: nourish our bodies and help fuel our activities, instead of using food as something to be controlled or turned to for comfort. Talking to a close friend, a trusted professor, counselor, or psychological professional is the next step to take if you think your eating behavior is starting to affect other aspects of your life.
So, how does one practice mindful eating in everyday situations? Before you eat, ask yourself what you’re really in the mood for, while considering the healthfulness of your choice. If possible, choose something that contains whole grains, vegetables, lean protein, fresh fruit, low-fat dairy, or a combination of some, or all, of the above.
Next, make sure that you’re eating because you are indeed hungry, and not bored, tired, sad, anxious, etc. While you’re eating, focus on the taste and texture of your food. Chew slowly, and feel the food fill your stomach. The closer you pay attention to your body during eating, the easier it is to gauge your satiety. Finally, do not feel compelled to eat all of your food just because it’s there. Respect your body and its feelings of fullness instead of forcing down food.
After eating a meal mindfully, you may feel much more centered and calm compared to eating a meal while distracted.
“No amount of calorie counting can tell you when you’re full or hungry, so it’s important to also use your own signals when you’re monitoring your diet,” said Michelle LaBozzetta, a Nutrition major.
Mindful eating appeals to those who have become frustrated with constant worry or anxiety around calorie-counting. “The ideas of mindful eating make dieting and living a healthy lifestyle so much more safe, effective, and enjoyable. It lets you look past the negativity of food, and helps you start to appreciate it,” said Heather DiBiasi, a Nutrition major.
Being mindful of how our emotional states influence our eating is a useful skill to have, and is helpful in overcoming disordered eating habits. Society is constantly told to try crazy fad diets and look a certain way, but it’s also important to trust yourself around food, and respect your body without trying to reach a weight that may be unreasonable for your body frame. Living a healthy lifestyle is all about balance, so staying active and eating a well-rounded diet, along with keeping mindful eating strategies, is an ideal way to stay healthy both physically and mentally.
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