Susan Weiner is one of the country's most prominent dietitians and certified diabetes educators. In fact, she was honored as AADE Educator of the Year in 2015.
As it happens, Susan serves as a Medical Advisor at our parent company Healthline, where she reviews diabetes content (outside of DiabetesMine) for accuracy and credibility.
She's the author of several books on living well with diabetes and has taught courses on well-being and nutrition at the Diabetes Sisters Weekend for Women conferences. Since we're not all able to attend those events (waves to the men in the audience!), we thought it would be very helpful to have Susan explain some of her approach to "Mindful Eating" to the community at large here at the 'Mine.
Let's face it: food is a constant challenge with diabetes, so we can use all the help we can get!
A Guest Post by Susan Weiner, Dietitian and CDE
Many of us eat on the run, eat our worries or anxieties from the demands of the day or life with diabetes. Mindless eating – or eating without a conscious attention to food and food choices leads to eating more calories, plain and simple it leads to eating more of everything. We eat based on a number of forces that may not be hunger-driven, including time, budget, boredom, emotions, and even cultural and religious reasons. For the past 27 years as a registered dietitian-nutritionist and certified diabetes educator (CDE), one thing I hear almost every day from my patients is “I just don’t want to watch everything I eat anymore.”
Compounding the problem is the “high speed” society that we live in. Our eating often happens on autopilot and we frequently do not pay attention to how much food is served or how much we have eaten, how tasty the food is, or if we’re hungry at all. Instead, food is driven by external cues such as the size of the bowl, or the portion of the food itself. Given the supersized trends, it’s easy to fall victim to portion distortion and to lose all concept of the appropriate amount to eat. Often PWDs (people with diabetes) who take insulin eat and then correct afterwards… thinking "screw it I’ll just eat it now and fix it later." Has that ever happened to you?
What’s the answer? It’s not about excluding all carbs or only eating celery and nuts for a month. It’s about starting with a mindfulness and awareness so that you can nourish your body by eating with intention and being respectful of yourself. As corny as it might sound, I like to use the acronym “RESPECT ME” to help my patients find their own path towards mindfulness in eating and overall diabetes health.
R – Recognize Signals. Be mindful about what you put into your body. What you eat effects your blood sugar, energy level, brain function, and sleep patterns. Use mindfulness to recognize the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Before going to the refrigerator or heading to the snack food aisle of the supermarket… stop, take a slow deep breath and on the out breath ask yourself: "Am I truly hungry, or do I crave these comfort foods to ease my stress or relieve another emotion?" If you keep a food diary (or use an app to do so), taking note of your mood and level of hunger when you eat may help you identify if and when your emotions are causing you to overeat.
E – Enjoy Eating. If you don’t enjoy what you are eating, chances are that you won’t continue to eat nutritious foods over the long haul. If I suggested that you only eat kale and chicken livers, and you despised those foods, then you will resent what you are eating. Instead, make an effort to find healthy foods that you can enjoy, and then feel accomplished when bout making those choices.
S – Satisfy, Don’t Stuff. Eat until you are satisfied, which doesn’t mean it needs to be everything that’s not nailed down. Listen to your body. It really does help to keep a food journal, either written or on an app. You will stay accountable and become aware of how much you are actually consuming. If you bite it, write it!
P – Perfect Being Present. Be present in the moment that you are eating and you will start to savor your food and appreciate it a whole lot more. Make sure to set aside time to sit down at a table and eat (avoid eating over the sink or in front of the refrigerator). Always take a deep cleansing breath before eating. That way you’ll be less likely to gobble down your food. Want to slow down? Try eating with your less dominant hand. If you are right-handed, try to eat tonight’s dinner with your left hand.
E – Exercise. Staying physically active is a great way to reduce stress, boost mental focus and improve blood sugar control. The key is to find activities that you enjoy. Try yoga, hiking, dance or biking. Schedule your physical activity like an appointment, so it becomes part of your routine.
C – Cope with Your Emotions. Emotions such as anger, anxiety, boredom, depression, excitement, loneliness and sadness may cause you to eat for comfort. You may be turning to food in order to numb your feelings. Try to figure out what is truly bothering you and tackle it head-on. Of course your diabetes might be getting to you as well, which is why you are working on some of these challenges in the first place!
T – Tell the Food Police to “Buzz Off.” PWDs are constantly told what to eat and what not to eat. You may have received nutrition advice from your RD/CDE or another member of your healthcare team, and have used that information to help you decide what to eat on a daily basis. Or not. Either way, you can politely yet firmly let family, friends and co-workers know that you are quite capable of making your own food decisions. If that doesn’t work, turn around and walk away from the conversation!
M – Make Moderation Key. At each meal and snack, always strive for moderation. Moderation is an essential component of mindful eating. Not only does making a conscious effort to choose smaller portions help you avoid overeating and weight gain, it is also less wasteful of your household food budget and our planet’s resources. Seriously. Using a 9“ dinner plate and filing it only once can help you eat more moderately.
E – Empower Yourself. After discovering your triggers and identifying patterns, create a food environment that works for you. Work to meet your needs without food -- now that you are becoming more mindful, be in the present in the moment with what you are eating. Make sure you get enough rest and sleep along with enough exercise. Reward yourself by walking along the beach (or some other place of natural beauty) and making sure that you are intellectually and creatively stimulated so you feel empowered and positive.
Some of this is not as easy as it sounds. It may take some time. But if you keep referring back to these suggestions I guarantee you'll find something there that helps.
Remember too that what matters is not how other see you, but how you see yourself. Next time you see your reflection in the mirror, take a moment to see the beauty there. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on what you have done to become more mindful in your everyday life.
Recommend Further Reading:
This infographic for practial tips on Mindful Eating
"Intuitive Eating" by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
"Mindful Eating: Rediscovering Your Relationship with Food" by Jan Chozen Bays
And you can learn more about Susan Weiner and her work here.
Thanks Susan, for reminding us of the value of being "mindful."