Food Everywhere – Too Many Choices!

Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, a dietitian, offers tips for you to enjoy the flavors of the holiday season and develop mindful eating as a way of life.

Food is often the center of attention during the holidays, and trying to regain a sense of control for the New Year can be tough. Many factors influence your food choices – the food around you, hunger level, boredom, your perception of healthy versus unhealthy food, among many others. This is where ‘mindful eating’ comes into play. You may have heard this phrase, but what exactly does it mean, and what is the benefit to us?

Earlier this year, we discussed mindfulness in the context of stress eating as: “experiencing and being fully aware of what your body is telling you in the present moment.” We live in a society where food is abundant and readily available, so being mindful of our body’s needs for nutrition and our food choices is key to maintain proper nutrition. You can start by creating a healthy eating environment.

If you think back to boot camp or officer training, meals were only available at one place, with set menus and times. Now, whether at home, in the office, barracks, commissary, or around your ship’s living spaces, no matter where you are, your environment is one of the main triggers of your food choices at any given time. If there’s a box of doughnuts in your spaces, you will likely crave it, and if you don’t, then you’ll probably want it anyway, just because it’s there. To avoid this common pitfall, especially around the holidays when potlucks and cookie exchanges are in abundance, ask yourself the following to see how you can improve your eating habits:

  1. Am I overindulging in food choices and quantities that I do not ordinarily eat because it’s available?
  2. Do I find myself eating when I’m bored or stressed?
  3. Am I grazing on food throughout the day without taking the time to taste and enjoy it?
  4. Do I mindlessly chomp on salty or sweet snacks in front of the TV?
  5. Am I skipping meals and not paying attention to when I’m really hungry?

If you answered ‘yes,’ to any of these questions, consider re-focusing your efforts to eat with the intention to nourish your body, enjoy the flavor of your food, and sustain positive energy levels throughout the day. Planning and preparing your meals ahead of time with a focus on healthy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of highly salted, sugary, or fatty snacks will increase your sense of controllability and help you sustain positive food choices in your daily routines and during holiday festivities.

Here are some additional tips to control your eating this holiday season and set you up for success in the New Year:

  • Don’t purchase food that you are vulnerable to overeating.
  • Keep food in designated areas that will only be accessible during set meal and snack times.
  • Avoid grocery shopping when you are hungry.

You can also visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s “Relax Relax” Toolkit for an audio presentation on Mindful Eating.

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