Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Limit red meat and salt.
When it comes to healthy eating, most of us can easily list items we should include in our diet, and foods we should minimize or avoid all together.
But consider this nugget of advice from the knowledgeable folks at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “How, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat.”
The Academy is promoting this idea in March, as part of National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is Savor the Flavor of Eating Right. Here are ways to create better eating habits.
Food is our fuel, but that doesn’t mean we have to always eat while we are on the go.
Get out of the car or walk away from the computer and take time to sit down at a table and eat a meal. While it’s preferable to eat with a family member or friend, that’s not always possible. Turn on relaxing music, sit with a book or just “savor the flavor.”
WebMD lists other suggestions to change bad eating habits:
- Start each day with a nutritious breakfast;
- Get 8 hours of sleep each night, as fatigue can lead to overeating;
- Eat more meals with family and friends;
- Teach yourself to eat when you're really hungry and stop when you're comfortably full;
- Reduce your portion sizes by 20%, or give up second helpings.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of mindfulness. But paying attention to and being present in the moment can also extend to our eating habits.
The Center for Mindful Eating explains some ways to eat more mindfully:
- Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
- Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
- Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
- Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Some specific ways to promote mindful eating include reading food labels, keeping a food diary and eating slowly (put your fork down in between bites.)
Harvard nutritionist Dr. Lilian Cheung, who co-wrote with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, says mindful eating is more important than ever given our fast-paced lives.
“We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: ‘Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad and stressed out?’ ”Dr. Cheung told The New York Times.
The Center for Mindful Eating maintains a list of other books about eating mindfully.
Avoid Emotional Eating
At times, we all reward ourselves with a rich dessert or turn to comfort food after a tough day.
But emotional hunger is different, according to helpguide.org:
- It comes on suddenly;
- Isn’t located in the stomach;
- Often leads to regret, guilt or shame.
Daily exercise and spending time with others, especially positive people, are just a couple of ways to avoid turning to food when you are stressed, bored or depressed.
Tips for Older Adults
Most older adults need fewer calories. One way to avoid overeating or wasting food is to use a smaller plate and bowl. Many restaurants have half-portions and senior citizen menus. If not, ask the server to put half the meal in a carryout box before bringing to the table.
Try to avoid eating every meal alone, as it could be bad for your health. A European study released in 2013 found that people who lived alone ate fewer vegetables than those who lived with someone.
"People's diet is not fixed, it changes over time. Furthermore, the ability to eat healthily is influenced by a person's social environment, including factors like marriage, cohabitation, friendships and general social interaction. As people age, they are less likely to eat well -- and when older people are living alone their diet often suffers," according to social epidemiology researcher, Annalijn Conklin.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.