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These are stressful times. Stress and anxiety increase cravings for sugar or highly processed foods. Eating these foods may help calm negative feelings in the short term, but they have negative health consequences in the long term. The key to mastering healthy habits at home is mindful eating.

Mindful Eating

Mindfulness is having an awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.

Mindful eating uses mindfulness before, during and after eating. It involves using all the senses, avoiding distractions and experiencing food without judgment. With less judgment comes less food guilt, which may motivate you to take care of yourself.

Designate Mealtimes

In the past, people only ate at designated mealtimes. Now people tend to eat all the time. It’s tougher to tune into natural hunger and fullness cues when constantly eating. However, when sitting down to eat without distraction, it’s easier to slow down and recognize hunger and fullness throughout a meal. Listening to hunger/fullness takes practice and patience, but having regular meals and snacks helps.

Focus on Food

According to a scientific review, people who are distracted tend to eat more in the moment and later in the day. Eating while distracted makes us less aware of how much we’re consuming. The more you slow down and focus on the meal in front of you, the less likely you are to overeat. To be more mindful, make small choices that encourage you to focus on your food.

· Turn off the TV and other electronics

· Sit down and take a few deep breaths

· Put your fork down between bites

· Notice the flavor and aroma

· Periodically check in to assess hunger/fullness

· Arrange food in a visually pleasing way

Avoid the News

We live in unprecedented times. Fear and uncertainty are running rampant, and most news headlines just add fuel to the fire.

Individuals eat 40 percent more calories when stressed. They also eat high-sugar, high-fat or processed foods. These foods briefly dampen negative emotions and trigger the release feel-good neurotransmitters which may feel good in the short term, but not later on.

Turn off news an hour before and during meals and snacks. An overload of negative information may make you anxious, which can be a cue for emotional eating.

Snack Responsibly

When snacking, include a source of protein and fiber to maximize short- and long-term satisfaction. Notice portion size. Remove food from the package and place on a plate/bowl. Listen to hunger and fullness. If you are simply snacking to snack, replace the habit with another positive activity.

Be Kind to Yourself

Have compassion for yourself. Research indicates the more understanding and forgiving you are to yourself, the more motivated you will be to take care of yourself, including eating well.

Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself emotionally eating, note how it made you feel and craft a plan for the next time. Mindful eating is about experiencing food without judgment.

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