We eat on the run, pulling into a drive-through and scarfing down a hamburger on the way to the next appointment. We grab a candy bar at the grocery checkout and munch it on the way to the car.
And somewhere along the line we realize that just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge food by its taste, says Jane Bernard, an educator and author of Lucid Living in the Virtual Age
“We know that taste can be misleading, at least when it comes to what’s best for us,” she says. “People love donuts, but they don’t make a nutritious breakfast. Spinach isn’t popular with many people – especially children – but it’s beneficial to our health in many ways.”
But for Bernard, a great meal is less about what you eat than how you eat it. She advocates something she calls “intuitive eating” that’s aimed at improving every dining experience – and perhaps making for a healthier diet along the way.
“Intuitive eating is deceptively simple,” Bernard says. “Focus on one meal at a time to get the most pleasure and nutrition from your food. Notice what you see, smell and taste. Check in with your body to see if you’re really hungry – because sometimes we keep eating when it’s actually time to stop.”
Although you might find yourself shedding a few pounds, intuitive eating isn’t necessarily about losing weight, she says. It’s about getting more pleasure out of your meals – and getting more pleasure from the people you have meals with.
Bernard suggests a few exercises that can help turn you into an intuitive eater:
- Smell food before putting it in your mouth. Nearly everyone has memories tied to the aroma of food. Perhaps it’s your mother baking cookies on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it’s hamburgers sizzling on a backyard grill. With most meals, people don’t take the time to savor the aroma, Bernard says. Does it smell inviting? Greasy? Fresh? Bad? “If the food doesn’t smell right, it isn’t,” Bernard says. “Let your nose protect you and help guide choices.”
- Taste food as you chew. You may think you already do this, but too often people don’t really take time to enjoy the taste, Bernard says. They wolf down their food so they can move on to whatever is next on their agenda. Tasting food helps your body relax and digest more efficiently, she says. Tasting and savoring what you eat also is good for overall health.
- Be thankful for your meal. Giving thanks doesn’t have to be limited to Thanksgiving. “Think about what food is giving you: energy, strength, health, nourishment and pleasure,” Bernard says. “If you take a little time to meditate on that, your body will relax and you will get more nourishment from your food.”
- Give your stomach time to inform your brain. It takes 15 minutes before your brain gets the message from your stomach that you’ve eaten. That’s no doubt one reason people over eat. They don’t give their body time to get the message that they are getting full before gulping down even more food. “Take time to have conversations when you eat and you will eat less – and enjoy the meal more,” Bernard says.
“Eating is a necessity of life,” Bernard says. “But there’s no need to rush things. Eat just enough to feel good and trust that hunger will return and another meal will be found.”