Eating Mindfully When You Have COPD
When you have COPD, controlling your weight is an essential component of living your healthiest life. Some people who have COPD struggle to keep the pounds on, while others struggle to keep them off. Either way, learning how to eat more mindfully can be helpful. However, in times of stress, loneliness, illness, or anxiety, this can be extremely challenging.
Too distracted to pay attention
The fact is, most of us tend not to think about, or even enjoy particularly, what we're eating. Instead, we focus only on the next bite, on finishing the meal, and moving on to something else. Either that, or we are too distracted by what is happening in our environments, such as the TV news or the latest social media post, to truly pay attention to what we're putting into our mouths. This post will help you understand the concept of mindful eating and give you some practical tips for improving your eating habits.
Breaking the "mindless" eating habit
Have you ever found yourself eating mindlessly? What does that even mean? Here are just a few examples:
- You finish a bag of chips or cookies without even realizing how much you were eating.
- You snacked while watching TV, even though you didn't actually feel hungry.
- It's a habit to finish everything on your plate, no matter how big the portion or how full you're feeling. (Children are starving in China, right?)
- You eat to cope with emotional stress.
When you fail to pay attention to how much you're eating or how full you're feeling, or you use food as a coping mechanism, you're engaging in mindless eating. And that can lead to overeating, indulging in unhealthy food and ultimately, weight gain and/or poor nutrition. It's important to break the habit of this kind of mindless eating if you want to be as healthy as possible.
What is mindful eating?
When we are mindful, it means we are aware of what's going on in and around us. We are present in the moment. We are not operating on "autopilot." Applying that idea to eating means being aware of:
- What we are eating
- Why we are eating it
- Where we eat
- When we choose to eat
- How we eat
In other words, we are tapped into our emotional and physical feelings while we are eating. We listen to our hunger cues and eat only when hungry and stop when we feel full. Doing that can help us make the right food choices, eat more slowly, and control our cravings. You'll find mindful eating is a simple technique for gaining control over your eating habits.
When we eat mindfully, we choose foods that we enjoy and that nourish our bodies.
Benefits of eating mindfully
When you practice more mindful eating, you'll feel better overall. You'll also give yourself the best chance at seeing these benefits:
- You give your brain time to catch up with and register what your body is feeling. In other words, you'll notice when you're feeling full before you feel stuffed.
- You'll probably eat less and reduce your total calories taken in during the day.
- Making the conscious choice to eat healthy snacks over unhealthy ones becomes easier.
- Eating becomes more enjoyable when you savor each bite.
How to eat more mindfully
As with any new habit, give yourself some grace while getting started. New ways of eating take time to become habits. Being mindful about your eating takes practice, consistency, and persistence. Here are some tips for getting started. Focus on one thing at a time, until you are ready to move on to the next.
- When you eat, take small bites, and chew them slowly. Then, swallow completely and take a few breaths. This can help with the shortness of breath and fatigue that sometimes accompanies eating when you have COPD, too.
- Take short breaks after every few bites. Again, not only is this a more mindful way of eating, but it can also help you get your breath back. Put your utensils down and pause for 10 to 15 seconds. Take a few sips of water to cleanse your palate.
- Make sure to enjoy each bite as you eat. Find pleasure in your food, using all of your senses. Inhale the odors of the food. Notice the colors and how it looks. As you chew, note the textures of the food. And finally, really taste the flavors.
- Avoid distractions while you eat. If you find it hard to eat mindfully, you may need to dedicate yourself just to eating. Don't read, watch TV, or scroll social media or websites while you eat. Focus just on your food and your eating. Eat in a calm environment.
- Don't rush through your meals. We already touched on this above, but it can take the brain 20 minutes to notice fullness, so taking that much time to eat your meal slowly just makes sense if you're trying to be mindful about it.
- Evaluate, but don't judge, how you are eating. Ask yourself why you're eating this food. Are you feeling hungry? Did you choose healthy foods? Are you eating too fast? Notice how full you feel. Test out whether you're paying attention to these questions. If you don't always make the right choices, don't berate yourself. Just take a breath and pledge to improve right then and in the future.
Remember, every meal and snack is another opportunity to care for your health and eat more mindfully. Every time you sit down to a meal, eat slowly and mindfully. Learn how to enjoy every bite of food as you eat it. This will help you feel more satisfied, both physically and mentally, when you're finished.
What has been your experience with mindful eating? Share more here!
How has your experience been navigating the healthcare system as someone with COPD?