Why 'How You Eat' Matters

 “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”  ~Luciano Pavarotti
In my NASA days, at the start of the manned space program we got lots of scientific advice about feeding the astronauts quick energy foods that came in tidy, compact containers. So we ended up with advancements like Tang, Tootsie Rolls and high sugar fruit pastes, which worked well enough for short missions in tight living quarters, and the need to eat whenever possible. The Russians, in their larger spacecraft and with longer stays in space, had established mealtimes when they ate together as a group. We took the Russians’ lead and soon made sure our astronauts took a break to eat prepared, more nourishing food.  It was important for them to feel they were taken care of. And who wants food that looks (tastes and smells) like it came off a Star Trek set!

If Napoleon was correct about “armies marching on their stomachs,” should not space ex-plorers float on theirs?

In the news media today when it comes to food and eating, what you eat gets all the attention. How you eat is rarely addressed despite its significant impact on what you end up consuming and how well nourished you feel.  While I’ll cover the important subject of 'what you eat' in my next post, let’s attend here to the “how” of eating.

Consider this: after that first gasp for air, finding a source of food is the next reflex action for newborns. Your mother is your first call.  Breast or bottle-fed, you start off by associating food with nurturing – warmth, physical contact, love, comfort, smell, taste, the sense of fulfillment. After weaning, and once a toddler, these psychological elements associated with eating often diminish. The relationship between family, food and nurturing may fall apart.

That being said, I offer a few key suggestions below for how you can get a lot more from your eating experiences. As a nation, our eating habits are doing us few favors. The good news is that adopting or further developing some of these practices will likely moderate the amount of food you eat, as well as increase the enjoyment of every bite on the way to a happier, healthier you.

Rediscover the Joys of Eating

• Set aside the time for eating. Yes, just like the astronauts. By pausing for meals you can again begin to touch into the enjoyment of the eating experience. If we read, text, watch TV, or drive while eating, it is impossible to fully attend to the meal.
• Sit down for meals at the dining table joined by your family, and even your friends whenever possible. “Breaking bread” is a wonderful way to connect with the people that matter to you. Share the duties of setting the table with plates and cutlery, as well as clearing and washing up. Suddenly, it’s an occasion rather than another expedited activity.
• Practice giving thanks for whatever moves you. Gratitude is a feel-good mechanism to bring back awareness to forgotten positives in one’s life.
• Pay attention to what feels right for you when eating. Being active or sedentary prior to meals, or even over a period of time, will influence your real hunger. The time of day, previous consumption, and even seasonality may all affect what and how much you may truly need to eat. And appreciate that you may not know better than someone else what they need, and vice versa.
• Choose reasonably-sized plates.  Dinner plates are 30% larger today than they were 100 years ago. You can do the math. Pay special attention to plate size (and what’s on the plate) when you go out for a meal.
• Eat slowly, with a mindful attention. Take a few breaths between bites or sips. Be aware of the colors, smells, tastes and textures of food. When you slow down, flavors burst forth.  And remember that it takes the brain 20 minutes before it senses that you have eaten enough.
 Notice when you are tired at mealtimes. Sleep deprivation is common in this busy age, and leads to over-eating, especially of fat and sugary foods. When you are particularly fatigued, practice bringing special attention to what you are eating. It may well save you from one of those chow-downs you soon regret.
• Beware of eating to soothe your anxiety. When you grab that bag of potato chips or left-overs from the fridge, consider if it’s because your body really needs the food, or if you’re doing it just to ‘calm down.’ Eating is a common coping mechanism.

Here’s how confident I am that implementing these tips can have a significant impact on your well-being: I guarantee that if you follow most of these suggestions you’ll moderate your caloric consumption, and improve the quality of what you eat too. Let me know how it goes.

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