Mindful eating begins with proper portion awareness

When I was growing up, there were two options on my mom's daily menu … take it or leave it. Being the good child that I was, I took it. Always. All of it. All the time. I learned to be a good eater and clean my plate. I'm proud to say that today I am a life member of the "Clean Plate Club." My mom would be so proud. My doctor, however, not so much. A well-known economist once said, "More die in the United States of too much food than of too little."

It seems odd to me that we eat more than 1,000 meals in a year, and yet we treat every meal as if it were our last. Why do we have the need to feel full or even stuffed after every meal? Our bodies require only a small portion (about the size of our fist) of nutrient rich food to satisfy our needs.

For example, a recommended meat serving size is only 3 ounces, the size of a deck of cards. But we often choose an 8-ounce, 12-ounce or even 20-ounce steak.

America has a large, inexpensive food supply. It's easy for us to consume "super-sized," "biggie" or even "king-sized" meals.

Visit this website for a handy wallet-size card with additional ways to measure portion size: http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/servingcard7.pdf.

Listening to your body can help you make better decisions when it comes to eating. An infant will tell his mother when he is full. You cannot make babies eat more than what they are hungry for. Their body tells them when they are hungry (cry) or full (refuse to eat).

As we get older, however, learned behaviors and environmental influences make it difficult to go back to our natural instincts. We must re-learn behaviors, such as stopping when we're full, by engaging in "mindful eating," which means we are aware of what is going on with our bodies as we eat. We need to listen to our internal body cues that tell us we are full.

Using a 0-10 hunger scale (where 0 represents being hungry or having an empty stomach and 10 represents being stuffed or how you might feel after eating a Thanksgiving dinner) can help you learn how to listen to your body and stop eating when you have consumed enough calories. It is not a good habit to eat to the point of being stuffed (e.g., 8, 9 or 10) every time you eat, though this may be common for many people. If done too often, this will probably lead to weight gain. Make it customary to stop when you are at 5 or 6 on the hunger scale. You will probably feel like you can eat more, but your body is normally satisfied with that amount and will adjust over time.

Some helpful hints:

n Don't make too much food (or be prepared to portion and store your left-overs)

n Use smaller dishes (since larger plates can give the appearance of less food)

n Don't eat from containers or boxes (place snacks into a small bowl or baggie instead of eating straight from the package or carton)

n Periodically, measure the typical portion of foods you eat often

n Wait 10 or 15 minutes before going back for seconds (after the food settles, you might discover you don't want seconds after all)

n Leave food on your plate purposefully after every meal (even if it is just one bite)

In restaurants:

n Avoid "all-you-can-eat" dining options

n Order healthy items from the a la carte menu (you can add sides if you'd like)

n Split an entrée with a friend

n Ask for the lunch, child or senior portion (they are much smaller)

n Request a "doggie bag" when ordering your meal, and set some food aside to enjoy later)

n Place utensils or napkins directly on food to indicate you're done eating (this will reduce the temptation to eat more)

Whatever you do, don't feel guilty about leaving food on your plate. Food will go to waste or it will go to waist. It's your call.

For more information, visit tinyurl.com/seniorfoodtips.

Annie Lindsay is an associate professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image, substance abuse for women and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at lindsaya@unce.unr.edu.