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How to use mindful eating to lose weight

| Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

If you've ever exercised to lose weight, there's a good chance the following thought has crossed your mind: “I worked out so hard. I deserve a treat!” It's also pretty likely that you indulged post-workout in some food you'd deemed forbidden — or consumed more than usual — and, in so doing, ate back all the calories you burned, and then some.

Here are some mindful-eating strategies that can help you feel better about food:

Stop doing the math. “People underestimate the calories in food and overestimate the calories in activities,” says Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab and author of “Slim by Design.” You can read food labels to educate yourself about how much you're really eating, but try not to obsess. And stop counting calorie burn; it can vary so widely depending on so many factors. “Calorie burn is irrelevant,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian and founder of Capitol Nutrition Group, a lifestyle-counseling practice in Chevy Chase, Md. “It's a distraction from what you really need to focus on, which is how did you feel? Did you have fun? Did you challenge yourself? Will you be excited to work out again?”

Ask, “Am I hungry?” When you feel like eating, rather than wrestle with your willpower, pause and ask: “Am I hungry? Does my body need food right now? Or, is the desire to eat coming from something else?” advises Michelle May, a Phoenix-based doctor and author of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.” “It's like checking your gas gauge before you fill up your car,” she says. If you're not hungry, redirect your attention or address the underlying issue. Or, just go ahead and eat. That's OK, as long as you acknowledge it, sit down to enjoy your food and stop when it ceases to be pleasurable.

Slow down. Don't multitask while you eat, says Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of “Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. “When you're distracted, that's when you tend to eat more,” she says. And don't eat so fast. Slow down enough to savor your food; eating with your nondominant hand can help.

Ditch deprivation. Resist the temptation to set up rigid food rules; deprivation leads to overeating, Scritchfield says. “When you cut out foods you enjoy, it makes you want the food more,” she says. So, if it's pizza night, enjoy it, but also serve vegetables and protein-rich foods. Or, pick one food that you miss and serve it once a day, every day, in a realistic portion. “You'll probably notice that after a few days, the food is less appealing and you will start skipping days,” she says. “That's the brain learning that the taboo is gone, so the obsession can go away, too.”

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