When we think of firehouse cooking, large portions of family-style comfort foods may come to mind. Meals cooked and enjoyed during downtime serve as bonding time for the crew. Even during downtime, eating patterns are influenced by the potential of a call, which may cause firefighters to eat large portions quickly, delaying feelings of satiety (feeling full), in order to get a meal in before the next call. This is an example of mindless eating, a form of eating unconsciously or eating on autopilot.

For the overwhelming majority, unconscious eating leads us to eating more than originally expected which in turn may lead to weight gain. Other relevant examples of mindless eating include eating while watching TV — a few chips from the extra-large bag turns into the entire bag — or eating out of boredom because the holiday treats are at eye-level on the counter. Sometimes we don’t stop eating until our plates are clean (regardless of how we feel while eating and after a meal) instead of paying attention to our internal cues of hunger and satiety.

In an effort to focus on adopting healthy eating habits without creating any dietary restrictions, try incorporating mindful eating.

What is mindful eating?

It’s the idea of eating with attention and awareness, while listening to our internal cues. Mindful eating allows us to eat with intention and understand the effects that food has on the body. It gives us the opportunity to enjoy the food we are eating and appreciate what it has to offer. By implementing this positive behavior change into your lifestyle, you may be able to control your portion sizes without experiencing feelings of deprivation.

Mindful eating is not only important in regard to nutrition for firefighters but is also an excellent strategy for all to implement.

Here are four simple tips to increase mindful eating:

  1. Examine your eating habits. Ask the following questions: Why, what, how, and when are you eating? Next, think about eating pace, portions consumed, and how you feel after you eat.
  1. Plate size matters! Try turning to smaller plates and bowls — even if you fill up the container and go back for seconds, you are more likely to consume less than if you had a larger vessel (large plates play mind tricks on us and cause portion distortion).
  1. Be prepared. If mindless eating is inevitable prepare pre-portioned snacks to practice portion control.
  1. Move healthier foods to eye-level. We are more likely to eat foods left on the countertop, even if we’re not hungry. Keep the healthier options, such as cut up fruits and vegetables, at eye-level in the refrigerator and on the counter. Put cookies, chips, sweets, etc. away in cabinets — this way we are forcing ourselves to make a conscious effort to eat them.

By implementing these strategies, you can start focusing on how and why you eat, which in turn may help you understand how your food choices affect your body and health.

How do you implement mindful eating?

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