Eating on Plate – A Simple Awareness Tool

I wrote this on my Instagram account (@brain_over_binge) a few days ago, and I thought I’d share it here as well, and add a little to the discussion.

I wrote about the benefits of taking a moment to put the food you are going to eat on a plate, especially highly palatable processed foods, sweets, or really any type of food you tend to eat too much of. This is a tip that most of you have probably heard before, but I think it’s worth mentioning and talking about because it’s a simple tool that you can use throughout your life to be a little more mindful of how you are eating (it’s not just for recovering binge eaters). There is no need to measure or count when you put food on a plate/bowl (this isn’t a “diet” tactic); just put whatever feels and looks reasonable and generally matches your hunger at the time.

Don’t be restrictive in dishing out your serving (ie: don’t put a measly 4 chips on a plate and tell yourself you absolutely can’t have any more than that); and don’t make eating on a plate a rule (ie: “I always have to put my food on a plate”). The goal is not to take away your freedom to eat how you want. There is nothing wrong with eating out of a bag or box sometimes, or eating straight from the leftover containers in the refrigerator; however, putting food on a plate is especially useful if you are just learning to normalize portions and get in touch with hunger and fullness signals.

Taking that small amount of extra time to serve what you are eating gives you a little mental space before the first bite, so that you can notice hunger signals and think about what amount of food you may require. During the meal/snack, eating from a plate allows you to get a visual of how much you’ve eaten and how much you have left, and how that much food feels in your body. If you feel like you’ve lost touch with hunger signals over time after years of binge eating, I truly believe you have to rely on your eyes (and rational brain) more than your body’s signals to determine normal portions. In that way, having that visual of how much you are eating is really important.

I’m not saying you have to sit there and eat slowly, not thinking about anything else but the food and your body’s signals. I’m not saying you can’t do anything else while you are eating, or that you have to chew every bite 214 times. I think those types of recommendations can end up feeling hindering, and lead to guilt when real life doesn’t afford time for sitting down and eating 100 percent mindfully. I’m only suggesting you cultivate some small moments of awareness surrounding your eating.

Putting food on a plate also gives you a better chance to choose a healthy stopping point for your meal or snack, because it puts time and space between your cravings and your ability to get more food quickly. Even if, after eating what you’ve put on your plate (let’s use chips as an example), you go back and get more; you haven’t failed. It’s not about never going back for more chips; it’s about having the space to make that choice a genuine one. If the bag is right there in arms reach, there sometimes isn’t enough time between the craving and action for awareness. Even if the first few times you try this, you do go back for a little more a few times, you are still cultivating mindfulness because you are allowing yourself time to feel your craving for longer before acting on it. Even if you don’t dismiss that craving, you will certainly notice it, whereas you might be operating on autopilot when eating straight from the bag.

It’s important to accept that the primitive brain will likely prompt you to get more highly palatable processed food (and even healthy food that’s delicious); and putting that type of food on a plate will not change that fact. If you are going to learn to eat normally, you are going to have to allow some cravings to just be, without doing anything about them, and see that they do go away on their own very naturally. Give yourself the time and space to feel those cravings, and you may start to view them as not so threatening or urgent anymore. You may still decide to go back for another serving sometimes, but that decision will start to feel more like a genuine choice and not an action that makes you feel out of control, and you may find yourself choosing that option less and less.

Just a word of caution:  This can only be helpful if you are not depriving yourself of food. Caloric deprivation and mindfully dismissing cravings aren’t compatible. 

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