Eating with awareness
Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP
In recent years, Canadians have been suffering from a new type of health hazard known as "portion distortion syndrome."
In recent years, Canadians have been suffering from a new type of health hazard known as “portion distortion syndrome.” In other words, due to the supersizing of food items, a majority of people are eating more than ever before, without even realizing it.
Along with our ever-increasing portion sizes, the waistline of the average Canadian has also grown drastically. According to results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, almost 60 percent of Canadians over the age of 18 were in a weight range that increased their risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Of this number, 36 percent of Canadians were considered overweight (with a body mass index between 25 and 30) and 23 percent were considered obese (with a body mass index greater than 30).
Part of the weight issue is linked to an increase in portion sizes. With a gradual increase in the amount of food being purchased and served, people have lost touch with what a healthy amount to eat actually is. Over the past 50 years, North American portion sizes have increased dramatically without consumers even being aware.
For instance, one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that in 1955, a typical order of French fries weighed 2.4 oz (67 g) while today, a typical order is 7.1 oz (200 g). The average size has almost tripled! (See "Supersized" for more examples.)
Unfortunately, when most of us are served more, we tend to eat more—hungry or not. Research by the American Institute for Cancer Research has revealed that 69 percent of people will finish their meals, even when the portions are huge.
In order to break the urge to overconsume, two steps must be implemented. We must:
According to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, food is divided into four groups: grain products; vegetables and fruit; milk products; and meat and alternatives. Here are their suggestions for how many servings of each category to consume—and what a single serving is.
Vegetables & Fruit
Meat & Alternatives
Daily recommended servings (adults)
5 to 12
5 to 10
2 to 4 (3 to 4 if breastfeeding)
2 to 3
|Examples of a single serving|
Don’t have a measuring cup?
Here are some other tips to help you properly estimate your portions:
The second approach to watching portion size is to eat consciously and with awareness. A dear friend’s grandmother once said to me, “For health, you should eat until you are sufficiently sufficed, not stuffed!” What wise words those were. Instead of gobbling up too much food at a hurried pace, eating in a slow manner until you are 80 percent full is far better for health.
Once you are aware of the average portion size of specific foods, the other critical step is to take notice of your true hunger signal. The next time you overeat and feel stuffed, ask yourself, “Was I truly hungry, or did I eat because of stress, sadness, boredom, or other reasons?” Remember, this process takes time and practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
To start eating with awareness, when you do feel the urge to eat, you must stop, take a breath, and focus your awareness back to how you are feeling. Is it hunger or is it an emotion or a craving? Try implementing the following steps when beginning awareness eating:
By becoming aware of portion sizes and implementing the simple steps above, you will instill mindfulness into your eating habits, which will halt overeating the wrong types of foods. The result—improved health and a smaller waistline!
Consider these increases in serving size over recent years:
Gauging your hunger
Here are some signs to help you decide whether you are eating with awareness, are in the habit of eating too much, or are simply comforting yourself with food.
Emotional Eating Emotional
|Eating is quick and sudden. Within 1 to 2 minutes, you can gobble up an entire meal without ever tasting the real essence of the food.||Awareness eating is slow and gradual. You enjoy and are aware of every element of your food, including taste, colour, texture, and flavour.|
|Emotional eating is triggered by a certain feeling or situation. For example, your boss yelled at you or you are fighting with your boyfriend.||Awareness eating is in response to true signs of hunger.|
|Emotional eating causes overeating the wrong types of foods. Symptoms such as bloating and feelings of guilt often accompany the food binge.||Awareness eating never results in feelings of guilt. Following a meal or snack, there is a feeling of being sufficed, not stuffed.|
|Emotional eating is absent-minded and unconscious. For example, you realize you just ate an entire bag of chips.||Awareness eating lets you know exactly how much food you have consumed.|