Peeling Off the Pandemic Pounds

A Harvard solution called Mindful Eating offers a set of simple rules about what, when and how you eat

| 02 Aug 2021 | 03:42

Remember your Freshman 15, the pounds you picked up the first year in college? Well, time to upgrade to the Pandemic 15. Or maybe even 29, the typical average weight gain tallied by the American Psychological Association among the 61 percent of us who ate too much and moved too little during the year of the lockdown when stuck indoors and stressed to the max, our bodies responded with an increased production of cortisol, a steroid hormone linked to weight gain.

Ordinarily, right now we’d deal with this by working like crazy to lose that weight for swimming season. But it’s already August, so the most reasonable goal is getting back into the shape that fit into the clothes that fit in 2020.

For starters, it not surprising that fitness companies like Peloton and the neighborhood gyms are running on overdrive. But Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is looking closer to home: at the dining table.

According to USDA, the average American spends an average two and a half hours eating every day. But while lifting fork to mouth, we’re also working, watching TV, studying or playing with our cellphones. In other words, your mouth is moving but so is your mind, which means you’re not necessarily watching what you’re doing.

The Harvard solution, called Mindful Eating, aims to change that with a set of simple rules.

First, pay attention not just to how much you eat but what you eat. Yes, that usually mean stepping up the low-fat, high nutrient foods such as fruits and veggies while stepping down high fat calorie packed animal products. The perfect program, of course, is everybody’s favorite, the Mediterranean Diet. It seems to work well for practically every body, probably because we are all essentially children of the North African basin where human life blossomed 70-100,000 years ago into Wikipedia’s list of at least 20 specific cultures before migrating out across the globe to Western Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe

Second, being stuck at home is likely to have messed with mealtime. With the fridge in the very next room, three meals a day likely turned into six. Or seven if you include that “harmless” late night snack. So, after watching what you eat, it’s time to watch when you eat. Depending on your personal body clock, three or four regularly spaced meals should do the trick when spaced not just by the clock but by your hunger. In other words, if you’re not hungry, don’t eat.

When you do, appreciate the plate. Look at it with the heightened senses you bring to any work of art. Enjoy the colors, aromas, and texture of the meal while thinking about how the food got to you and how lucky you are to be enjoying the food and the company of your fellow diners. Done contemplating? Time to follow Mom’s advice: take small bites which, says Mindful Eater Assembly Member Dick Gottfried, “Means you get to enjoy your food twice as much as taking big bites.” Now: chew. The Harvards say forget that 100 crunch thing; 20 to 40 will do to savor every flavor in the mix.

Of course, what makes all this work started back when you picked up a pencil and a piece of paper to write down your supermarket shopping list, the one that almost always helps you avoid the impulse the grab six ice cream bars when six individual servings of low-fat yogurt will do.

Stick to the list, follow the rules, and at a reasonable two to three pound loss per week, you should be back in fighting form by fall.