Mindful eating for physical activity and athletes
By Dr. Shahla Khan

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Most of us do not think about eating. In our rushed lives, we do not think about when we eat, what we eat and why we eat and how we eat. If we take the time to really think about and bring our attention to our eating behaviors, the benefits could not only help with weight control, but also in becoming more in tune with our body. It would make us more attentive to feelings of fullness and hunger and ultimately bring a whole new awareness to our eating behaviors.

For many people who engage in physical activity, they begin to feel they have the freedom to eat as much as they like. Many times I have heard them say "I know I can burn off the extra calories." An assumption is often times made that your body needs a lot of food just because you are exercising.

Eating becomes a mindless action, overconsumption occurs, and little attention is paid to focusing on foods that will nourish the body and fuel the body for physical activity. The exerciser needs to be reminded that it is not the total amount of calories that needs to be emphasized, but rather the choices of foods and nutrients in the foods that may help give and restore energy to the body and mind.

As the individual practices mindful eating, over time he or she will learn to eat until satisfied, not until feeling full. There is a difference. You become more in tune with your body and begin to recognize cues to the feeling of fullness, halting overeating and the potential negative health and performance effects associated with overeating.

There is a Chinese proverb that states, "The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor." At its simplest, mindful eating is all about being aware and having a consciousness about what you eat. It teaches you to savor the taste, texture and smell of food. Eating becomes a pleasure.

The practice of mindful eating will help reinforce and remind us how powerful the mind/body connection really is; that the practice of mindful eating can be good for both your physical and mental health and overall well-being.

Shahla Khan, Ph.D., is an AFPA-certified sports nutrition consultant. She teaches nutrition and health at the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University.