Pay Attention! The Secret to Never Overeat Again

You may think you can multitask with no problem, but if you’ve ever reached the bottom of the popcorn bucket at the movie theater and thought, “Where’d it all go?!” I’d beg to differ.

Chowing down while you're engrossed in a movie, TV show, your computer, or even a conversation can cause you to become disconnected from the eating experience. And when you detach, it’s easy to lose sight of how much you’ve consumed and how full you feel, which is why the study of mindful eating has become so vital to health experts.

A recent report published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that paying attention to body signals—including taking a few minutes to assess hunger, making conscious food choices, and stopping when full—was just as effective for weight loss and blood-sugar regulation as a standard diabetes class. That doesn’t mean we should abandon traditional nutrition and health education, but it does demonstrate the value of this alternative approach.

As much as I want to teach my clients everything I know about nutrition science, I’ve often seen a simple focus on mindfulness result in immediate, powerful results, particularly in social eating situations.

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It's all about mind-body synergy, and body temperature is a perfect parallel because it involves a strong connection that few people ignore. When you’re too cold, you have physical symptoms: You get goose bumps, you shiver, maybe your teeth chatter. Your body is telling you it’s out of balance and doesn’t feel good. In turn, your mind recognizes the signals, trusts and honors them, and acts accordingly to allow you to feel well again.

We’re all born with the same type of built-in mechanisms to guide our eating, but from a young age we learn to override or ignore them. The great news is, simply rediscovering these indicators, and allowing them to direct you, can have a profound impact on your waistline, health, and quality of life. And there is no better time to practice getting your mind and body back into sync than during the mother of all eating holidays.

This Thursday, when you’re looking over your options, take a moment to stop and check in with your body. If you don’t have any physical signs and symptoms of hunger, consider waiting to eat until you do. If you can’t, think about which choices would feel best to your body. For example, if you’re not really hungry to begin with, reaching for veggies with hummus would probably feel a whole lot better than moshing on a napkin full of pigs in a blanket.

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While you’re eating, try to stop, at least periodically, and direct your attention back to your body to monitor physical signs and symptoms of fullness. When you feel like you’ve hit the “just full enough” mark, stop, knowing that your body will feel better if you do and you can always have more later.

It may seem awkward, especially because eating until your buttons are about to pop is encouraged on Thanksgiving, but let’s face it, your body, which loves equilibrium, would never choose to feel stuffed. By being conscious of what your body is telling you and going with it, just like you would if you were too cold or too hot, you’ll naturally avoid overeating, which means no need for chalky antacids and no Black Friday food hangover!

What do you think? Does remaining mindful and letting your body decide if to eat, what to choose, and when to stop sound reasonable or ridiculous? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Pay Attention! The Secret to Never Overeat Again-2

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

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