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5 Tips for Adopting Healthy Eating Habits in the New Year

January 4, 2016
5 Tips for Adopting Healthy Eating Habits in the New Year As of this writing, I have joyfully given and gratefully received, slept more than my fair share, and eaten home-cooked food in quantities I’d rather not disclose. While it’s been days since we rang in 2016, I have continued to eat in a way I aim to reserve only for actual holidays. For example, it’s only noon, and I have already eaten 1-2 pounds of leftover mashed potatoes, 6-7 gummy frogs, 1 plate of fish and chips, and approximately ¼ cup of grape Nerds. The holiday season is widely known as a period of less than stellar nutrition, but for me, the season can easily kick start a pattern of poor eating habits that follow me into the new year. Since eating is strongly tied to our thoughts and feelings, I thought I would write about “mentally healthy” eating. Here are five strategies for putting mentally healthy eating habits in motion as you prepare for another semester of teaching. Ask yourself some simple questions about what, when, where, and why you eat. What is the last thing you ate today? Why did you choose to eat what you ate? What time was it, and what were you doing, thinking, and feeling just before you decided to eat? In one of my favorite books about the psychology of eating, Geneen Roth writes, “If you want to know how a person feels about self, others, and the world, look no further than the way in which they eat.” What we eat, where we eat, when we eat, and why we eat can be a window into our mental and emotional worlds. As you answer these questions for yourself, jot down your observations, as if you were simply collecting data. Aim for an attitude of curiosity instead of judgment so that your efforts don’t backfire, and you don't start eating to soothe your guilt/shame (or is that just me?). After making observations, make small changes to the way you eat. Geneen Roth advocates for honoring yourself and your body by sitting down to eat, using a plate and utensils, and doing nothing but eating while eating. No TV, no phone, no magazines, and minimal, if any, company. Chew slowly. Savor the flavor. Rest your fork between bites. These small changes help you to tune back into your body as it communicates what it is hungry for and when it is full. (For more brilliance from Roth, check out When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair.) Check in with yourself just before eating. When I lead my teacher stress groups, I often have teachers do a mind, heart, and body scan as an opening whip-around. Simply try and answer each of these three questions in one word: What’s on my mind? How am I feeling emotionally? What does my physical body feel right now? Whether your answers sound like food/sad/numb or lesson plan/unsure/back hurts, this simple check-in will help you notice if you’re eating to cope. Make sure you are eating regularly. This is especially important as school starts back up. For some of you, this could look like packing all five lunches on Sunday nights. Some of you might make a week’s worth of soup or casserole on Sunday nights and freeze it so that dinnertime is nutritious and stress-free. Whatever you choose, the goal is to eliminate obstacles to keeping yourself fed. Plan other forms of joy into your week. While there is nothing better than a killer meal at the end of a long day in the classroom, make sure that eating isn’t the primary source of joy in your everyday life. That’s a recipe for eating as a way to cope. Plan in other activities to look forward to such as a weekly phone date, a museum trip on a Saturday, or 30 minutes a day with a book, to name a few. Here’s to happy, healthy eating in 2016!