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Senior Citizen's Guide to Baltimore

Food Cravings and Mindful Eating

There are many reasons why people crave food, either physiological or emotional in nature. Many habits and triggers that can affect what and how much you eat. Artificial sweeteners and other chemicals in our food can affect appetite and food cravings. Lack of sleep and fatigue can increase food intake. A stressful situation can trigger a feeding frenzy. Food and the act of eating stimulate endorphins and feels good. The key is finding other activities that also feel good.

Here are ten feel good activities. Make your own list.

  1. Talk a walk
  2. Call a friend
  3. Sing a song
  4. Take a drink of water
  5. Change environments
  1. Get some sleep
  2. Take a few deep breaths
  3. Dance to some fun music
  4. Get a hug from someone you love
  5. Take a hot bath or shower

The most common trigger is deprivation and imbalanced dieting. Skipping meals, particularly breakfast can create cravings for unhealthy foods. Many diets are imbalanced or deficient of nutrients and can trigger food cravings. For instance many low-calorie foods (rice cakes) are not very nutrient dense. Low-fat foods (skim milk, low-fat cookies), and low-carb diets eliminate grains) can throw the body off balance. Without fat our body does not function well, creating hormonal and mood imbalances. Fat is satiating and helps reduce eating. The body needs carbohydrates to function. Our brain cannot function well without carbohydrates. The key is quality. High quality carbohydrates are whole grains like brown rice, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, versus processed foods like crackers and pretzels.

Although cravings may trigger us to eat more than we want, they are often healthy messages from our body. These cravings can be a sign that we are deficient in certain nutrients, like magnesium, zinc, Vitamin D, and/or omega 3 fatty acids. Aside from nutrients, cravings may also signify we are not getting enough of certain flavors or food groups. For example too much salty food can stimulate a sweet craving or vice versa.

High-glycemic foods and refined sugar can trigger food cravings. For instance if you have a glass of orange juice, cereal with skim milk for breakfast, you will likely be hungry again in one or two hours. This is a sign that the meal is not balanced. Blood sugar spikes and drops leaving you hungry. Without balanced meals, hunger is likely to hit us when there are no good food options to choose from.

The best way to make better food choices is to be more mindful. Food choices are a direct result of where you put your focus or intention. Learning how foods affect our body, mind and spirit is a process of discovery. Our bodies can be our best teachers, as we become observant of our body and the foods we eat. Making food choices that benefit health and wellness comes naturally when you pay attention.

The practice of paying attention and observing is not a huge investment of time. It can be a moment of noticing how a food tastes, smells or feels in your mouth. The practice can be as simple as taking a deep breath before you eat. Another practice is to take a moment before you eat to express gratitude for the person who prepared the food, the person who grew the food or just even for the food itself and the abundance of food available to you.

We overeat not because we enjoy food too much -it is because we don't enjoy it enough. ~Charles Eisenstein

This practice of observing, noticing, appreciating and being mindful of food and how it feels in your body and affects your body will reap benefits and rewards. Mostly the evidence comes from the practice. However, recent studies demonstrate that nutrition programs that incorporate meditation and mindfulness training improve outcomes of weight-loss and reduce binge eating

Spring is on its way!  And so are the many flavors of spring and summer, the fresh and delicious locally grown greens, strawberries, herbs and more. Enjoy! You can use the meditation below as reminder of your practice.

Donald Altman’s Experience Food Deeply from “Meal by Meal”
For this meditation, practice being mindful of all your senses. 1) Use your sight to look at food’s color and shape with full concentration. 2) Smell a food’s aroma—both cooked and uncooked. Can you tell when something is fresh or spoiled? 3) Taste a food by letting it linger in your mouth for a long time, chewing it and extracting all the flavor it has to give you. Do you like (or dislike) it? 4) Experience details of a food’s texture and sound as you chew. 5) Hear food as you crunch, munch, and pop it in your mouth.

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