There are countless reasons to adjust to a healthier diet: lower blood pressure, reduced joint pain, more energy, stronger disease protection—the list goes on. You name a part of the body, and it’s pretty likely it would benefit from a healthy diet.
But it’s not just what we eat that plays a role in our health and happiness, but how we eat. Things have changed quite a bit since we farmed our food. Now, processed snacks are at our fingertips, sugary drinks are advertised as sport fuel, and we’re constantly on the clock due to technology. Over time, our habits around eating have been compromised.
Have you ever grabbed a snack before a meeting, eaten it, and then been surprised to see that you only had one bite left? Or gobbled everything on your plate and then felt too full? Or even climbed into bed only to realize you didn’t drink any water that day?
The culture around nutrition already has a lot of sneaky ways of making us feel bad, but luckily, there are a few tricks we can incorporate to choose wisely and feel good.
1. Make water your appetizer.
Whenever you go for a meal or a snack, have a small glass of water first. This trick has a few perks:
- Sometimes when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty. In a 2009 study, individuals were studied responding to thirst and hunger. People responded “appropriately” by consuming water in response to thirst (in the absence of hunger) only 2% of the time. They responded “inappropriately” 62% of the time. If it turns out you’re just thirsty, you’ll have scratched the itch, and if you’re still hungry, you’re just a little more hydrated.
- If you tend to eat quickly and then feel too full, drinking water first can help trigger that feeling of fullness sooner, helping to prevent overeating.
- Tying water to eating can help us stay hydrated. Many people don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. By making water-before-food a routine, you ensure that at least some hydration is incorporated into your day. After all, being hydrated can feel pretty good.
2. Put it on the schedule.
It’s easy for meals to turn into afterthoughts. With so many of us working from home, we’re constantly on the computer, grabbing what’s easy from the fridge, and often not eating on a regular schedule. If you think there’s room for improvement in your diet, treat it like you would a work project and schedule in the time to take it seriously.
You don’t need to carve out an hour per meal — even ten dedicated minutes can do the trick. After all, it’s hard to make thoughtful food decisions when you’re carrying your Zoom meeting into the kitchen. And putting meals on the calendar has other benefits: in one study covered in Health, “adults consuming calories during regular meals—at similar times from one day to [the] next—were less obese than people who have irregular meals, despite consuming more calories overall.”
3. Turn eating into a mindfulness exercise.
There’s an easy culprit to blame for many of our dietary struggles: mindlessness. We refer to mindlessness in many ways. Some of us say we were “lost in thought” or “running on autopilot,” but no matter what you call it, mindlessness can lead to less enjoyment and poor decision making.
You can improve your relationship with food the same way you might improve a relationship with a person: by being present. When carving out the time to eat, you’re also allowing yourself the time to enjoy. Having a mindful eating practice can help us better tune in to our bodies’ needs, make better nutrition decisions, and even help us tune in to our emotions around eating.
There are many ways to be mindful when you eat, but here’s a good place to start:
- Put away the distractions and sit down. No standing at the counter while scrolling on your phone. Mindful eating is technology free and meant to be enjoyed.
- Consider the journey your food took before it got to you. You don’t need to write a thesis, but if you’re having an apple, think about the tree it came from, who might’ve picked it, how far it traveled to get to you, and all the people involved in making that happen. Unless that apple came from your backyard, it’s likely it took quite a trip! Take time to appreciate it.
- Smell it, feel it, and take a long look at it. This is part of the savoring process. How often have you really considered a chip before popping it into your mouth? Probably not that often!
- Take small bites. Give the food a chance to linger in your mouth. Sit with the taste and the texture. Enjoy it!
- Go slowly. Give your body time to tell you when it’s full, or if it wants more. Try closing your eyes for a moment and truly relishing the moment.
With these three tips, you can be well on your way to a better relationship with food.