Meal Plans and Meal Prep (preparing several day’s meals in advance at a scheduled time) are all the rage right now. You can’t venture very far into the blogosphere without encountering multiple bloggers who post about their weekly efforts. Food bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, mommy bloggers—multiple communities are embracing the trend. Both of these ideas are great options for bringing some more mindfulness to your diet. But if they seem too ambitious, you don’t have the time, or they just won’t work for you, all is not lost.
Part of the appeal of these approaches to meal management is that they are time-saving. But in terms mindfulness, their power comes from the planning. Taking some time to clarify your intentions for your food choices is a simple way to support yourself in fulfilling them. Schedule some time (seriously, put it in your calendar!) or identify a repeating event that can serve as a reminder to make a plan. It can be as simple as planning the rest of your day’s meals over breakfast or during your commute. Or simply thinking ahead to your next meal each time you sit down to eat.
- Avoid Extremes:
When you let yourself get too hungry, you are more likely to make poor food choices out of desperation. By the time you finally stop whatever you are doing to satisfy your grumbling stomach, it’s all you can do to grab the easiest, fastest thing that will do the job. And we all know that those aren’t usually the healthiest options.
Instead, be mindful of your body’s progress toward needing to eat again and preempt that need before your hunger becomes a ravenous beast, and you might have the patience to make something healthier. Try checking in with yourself each time you take a break at work, or each time you go to the bathroom. Are you hungry (or thirsty!) now? How soon are you likely to need food? Will you be free to meet that need when it arises? If not, better go grab an apple or a handful of nuts from the cupboard.
Hunger can also lead to overeating. And both contribute to wild blood sugar swings that can keep you from feeling your best. If overeating is a problem for you, start with reconsidering your portion sizes. Using smaller dishes, for instance, is proven to be effective in eating less. Begin your meal with smaller servings, knowing that if you are still hungry, you can have more. Once you’ve finished that first helping, establish a waiting period before you reach for another. Twenty minutes is best, but even five or ten will be helpful. If, at the end of that time, you are still hungry, go ahead and have some more. Alternately, grab yourself a tall glass of water and use that as your metric—if you are still hungry when you’ve finished it, more food is on the menu.
- Hit Pause:
Think before you eat! We’re all busy, and remembering to take a moment before you sit down to a meal (or shovel something from the snack cupboard into your mouth while doing five other things) can be a tall order. But it is so important. Take a moment to feel gratitude for your meal. Creating a gratitude practice is a powerful way to keep anxiety at bay. (Keeping a gratitude journal is a very useful tool.) Take a moment to think about how you are nourishing your body. When you do this, you are more likely to remember the benefits that healthy food choices can have in our lives and choose your meals accordingly.
Some things to consider in this pause:
- What’s missing in your diet so far today? Should you add more veggies to your plate? More protein? More joy? (Yes, eating foods that we are excited about is important for retaining a healthy relationship with food.) What is your body asking for? Have you had any cravings? If so, what is underlying that craving?
- Redirect, Don’t Restrict
I’m a firm believer in the concept of “crowding out.” The idea is to fill our bellies with healthy, nutrient-dense foods that will satisfy our bodies’ needs. It’s not about what you “can’t” eat, it’s about eating things that make you feel good and filling up on those things first. If there’s room leftover for a little treat, great! With your belly full of healthy, nourishing foods, you will be less likely to over-indulge.
Remember, healthy lifestyle change is about sustainable change. If you can’t imagine a life without pizza, or chocolate, or homemade cookies with milk—don’t make that your goal and beat yourself up when you have a lapse. Instead, eat healthy most of the time, and when you indulge, do so in moderation, with the knowledge that you are choosing to eat that cookie as a gift to yourself.
- Set Yourself Up For Success
Protect your pantry! Go grocery shopping with a list, and don’t go when you are hungry. If you can keep unhealthy foods out of convenient reach, you will be less likely to eat them. The same is true if you have a car stash or a snack drawer at work. Quick, convenient foods are often the hardest to find healthy substitutes for. Set yourself a modest, attainable goal to pick up a new, healthy snack to try every time you go grocery shopping or to try a new make-ahead snack recipe once per month. As you make progress toward a healthier diet, you can even bring this exercise to bear on your shopping habits as a whole, for example, by finding the healthiest versions of the ingredients you commonly use. Making an “upgrade” like this once a month or so will help set you up for success without being overwhelming.