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Quinn on Nutrition: Being mindful of how and what we eat

Mindfulness — being present in the moment — not only helps us through bad weather. It can help us improve eating habits.


My rental car skated across snow-packed roads after a winter storm dumped a foot of Christmas cheer onto my route back to the Denver airport. Mindful that I did not want to skid out of control, I concluded that this would not a good time to post a picture of my adventure on Facebook.

When I stopped for gas in Pine Bluffs, Wyo., I told the cashier I was heading home a day late because of the snow storm.

"It was pretty bad here," she said. "But not as bad as they had in western Nebraska."

That's where I was, I told her.

Mindfulness — being present in the moment — not only helps us through bad weather. It can help us improve eating habits, according to an article by Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, in Today's Dietitian. And who doesn't need that this time of year? Here are some expert ideas to become a more mindful eater:

Wake up to what you are doing. "Many of the habits that drive us to overeat are unconscious behaviors that people have repeated for years," says Michelle May, MD, author of "Eat What you Love, Love what you Eat" and founder of "Am I Hungry?" mindful-eating workshops. And we can't change until we become aware of what we need to change, she says.

I realized, for example, that my trusty mug of hot coffee as I maneuvered across the icy plains not only kept me alert but was a true comfort as I watched the outside temperature plummet to 7 degrees. And I totally justified other provisions my daughter had packed — a high fiber granola bar, a liter of bottled water, and a high-energy concoction she calls "chocolate crack."

Recognize how and where you eat. Once at the airport, I grabbed a quick meal and checked my phone messages…totally oblivious to what I was eating. Safe and sound back home, however, I enjoyed a relaxed meal with a friend. No rushing. No distractions. Big difference.

Mindfulness, say experts, means paying attention — in the present moment and without judgment — to what we do. Research shows that when we become more mindful about how and what we eat, our weight and stress levels often normalize.

Ask yourself, "Am I hungry?" Ultimately, this is the question to ask ourselves through this entire season, says May. When I stop to consider my hunger, it puts a pause between the urge to eat and eating.

So…I will be mindful, yet gentle, with myself, as I sip eggnog with my family after church on Christmas Eve. And as we share meals, I will realize this is how we foster healthy relationships with others as well as with food.


(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at


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