A few weeks ago, the long-anticipated revisions to Canada’s Food Guide (https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/) were released. These updates address many questions and concerns, and reflect a more modern, consumer-friendly, and considered approach to nutrition. While much of the attention has been focused on the recommendations related to food groups, I’d like to discuss perhaps a more important element of the Food Guide: Your healthy eating habits.
The Canada Food Guide (2019) includes a specific section entitled ‘Be Mindful of Your Eating Habits,’ and includes recommendations for being aware of how you eat, why you eat, what you eat, when you eat, where you eat, and, how much you eat. The guide goes on to advise: “Being mindful of your eating habits can help you: make healthier choices more often, make positive changes to routine eating behaviours, be more conscious of the food you eat and your eating habits, create awareness about everyday eating decisions, and to reconnect with the eating experience.” Hallelujah! We are advised by mentors, coaches, parents and friends to ‘think before you act’ (or speak… I’m still working on that one). Mindfulness, in general, will lead to a more enriching life; mindfulness, applied specifically to our eating habits, may go a long way in support of robust longevity and fully enjoying the best years of our lives.
So, in consideration of mindful eating, please let me share a few thoughts on behaviours which underlie excellent nutrition and support robust longevity.
- Take Time to Eat
This sounds like common sense, but too many of us eat in our cars after ‘driving thru,’ eat at our desks in our workplace, or eat while multi-tasking. When we begin by setting aside time to eat, by default we set aside time to consider what we are about to eat, and we set aside the time to prepare that food. This leads to more mindful meal selection and an increased likelihood that these choices will be healthy. Think about your meals, set aside time to prepare them, and then slowly, mindfully, enjoy!
- Be Aware of Hunger Cues
Scheduling meals and having a routine is important, but equally so is awareness of hunger and feeling full. When preparing meals, be mindful of hunger levels. Try to eat what satisfies hunger and set aside extras before having seconds. Studies of the common habits of centenarians across the globe, from diverse cultures and regions, reveal that eating until one feels approximately 80 per cent full tends to support longevity and physical wellness. The ‘Blue Zones’ first discussed by Dan Buettner in National Geographic (2005; https://www.bluezones.com/) have been well defined and acknowledged as having significant populations living past 100 years of age. Despite some variety in diet based upon local availability, they all tend to make a habit of not overeating. They try to gauge their fullness to stop from continued eating at around 80 per cent full. There are several other commonalities between these widespread populations and I encourage interested readers to take a closer look. Concerning specific mealtime habits however, one insight is that pausing eating at approximately 80 per cent full, and then waiting a few moments, often leads to a sense of satisfying fullness and avoids eating to excess, or feeling bloated.
- Cook More Often
Cooking your own meals at home has so many benefits: It is usually less expensive than fast food or dining out; we can include children, partners and friends in meal prep and planning, thereby sharing the task and deepening bonds; we rely less on processed foods; we choose healthy ingredients; we gain satisfaction from not only learning new skills, but taking control of our nutrition; and, most importantly, WE MAKE FOOD WE LIKE! Further, we can make meals which easily stretch into healthy leftovers. “Cook once, eat twice.”
- Enjoy the Culture of Food.
Consider buying your groceries more often and in slightly smaller quantities to help ensure freshness and variety. We could learn a thing or two from the French, Italians, Spanish and other cultures with a deeply-rooted food heritage. They tend to shop more often, store less, and make a point of frequenting local farmer’s markets and patronizing local producers. These habits can support increased quality of food, help avoid waste, and keep consumers in touch with where their food comes from. Further, being mindful when grocery shopping may start as simply as considering our buying patterns. You’ve likely heard this before, but it bears repeating: when at the grocery store, aim to buy the bulk of your food and ingredients from the outer sections of the store. These usually include the produce section, butcher department, and the dairy section. The inner aisles tend to be stocked with more processed foods high in salt, sugars, and excessive fat. Consider trying to source the vast majority of your food from the outer ‘fresh’ sections and/or from local producers and farmers markets whenever possible. Finally, be open to the abundant seasonal produce available from the amazing local producers we have here in Frontenac County and Eastern Ontario. They take great pride in their work and produce amazing food for us, their neighbours.
- Finally, Eat with Others.
I was raised by an amazing single mother. One gift she gave me was the ritual of us, just the two of us, sitting and eating together at every evening meal. Whether I lumbered in the door late from football practice or she had to work overtime, we made time to cook, sit, eat, and connect. We would rewind the day, check in with each other, get updates, hear plans, and generally enjoy the meal and the time together. The mealtime ritual of connecting people is a cross-cultural phenomenon that I believe we sometimes dismiss as an inconvenience. At mid-life, even having made family meals a priority for years, we might find ourselves with an ‘emptynest.’ We can, with mindfulness, minimize solitary meal times and increase our engagement with others over meals. Dinner clubs, pot-lucks, book groups which have a meal component, and other mindful mealtime practices can help maintain important social connections and reinforce positive, healthy eating habits.
There are several considerations for us as we pass through middle age and reflect on the best practices for ourselves to support robust longevity over the second half of life. Maintaining meaningful, deep and loving relationships, engaging in effective fitness practices, and being mindful of our diet and eating habits all contribute to supporting our best years. The pleasure of a simple meal prepared at home, shared with loved ones, with the knowledge that the ingredients are healthy, delicious and mindfully considered is truly, in my opinion, one of the finest things in life. Bon Appetit!
Michael Patterson M.Ed.
Lift Long and Prosper
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
*DISCLAIMER: The information provided and discussed in this column is based on my personal experience, studies of physical and health education and my expertise as a lifelong fitness and health professional. Any recommendations made about fitness, training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided through this column, should be discussed with your physician or other health-care professional.