Summer can be a great time to go into vacation mode, sit back and relax. However, for many parents who work during the summer, squeezing in time to be with their children and keeping them entertained can be challenging. With warmer weather comes a lot of expectations of fun family adventures, but trying to meet these high expectations can be especially stressful. In fact, a recent survey found that that approximately 60 percent of parents worry that their summer plans will not live up to their children’s expectations. Trying to meet these expectations can lead to considerable stress and, as a result, emotional eating and unwanted weight gain. 
Under these circumstances, we may find ourselves eating less for nutritional reasons and more to comfort ourselves – soothing ourselves with empty calorie foods or grabbing unhealthy snacks as we take the kids to their next activity. That candy bar may taste great, or even distract us momentarily from a busy day, but mindless eating can lead to unnecessary weight gain and fatigue, sluggishness and other health consequences.
To eat healthily, we have also to eat mindfully. Here are five ways to help you become more aware of what you are consuming, which can lead to smarter choices.
Write it down
Anyone who has embarked on an exercise program is often told to keep track of the steps they take, miles they run or workouts in a week. Why? Because when we keep track of our progress, we become more mindful of our successes, as well as where we can improve. Similarly, keeping a food journal can also help you become more mindful of your food choices. It will remind you of those 10 crackers you ate after lunch, or that extra helping of mashed potatoes you scooped onto your plate at dinner. Writing down what you eat – and when, and why – allows you to zero in those habits you need to work on.
We often find ourselves staring into the refrigerator or food pantry just browsing. You may even wonder why you wandered into the kitchen in the first place. Before you grab something to eat, take a moment to ask yourself, “why am I eating now?” Chances are, you might not actually be hungry – you could be stressed, or angry, or tired. If you take the time to ask the question, you may discover that eating may not be the solution.  Find other ways to beat stress, anger or fatigue.  Rather than eating, take a bike ride with the kids, call a friend, or make a cup of tea.
Just eat
With so much going on in our day, we often rush everything in our lives – including eating. In a world filled with distractions, we often use our meals as a time to multi-task. We may find ourselves watching TV or responding to e-mails or scrolling on our phones. These distractions may help us connect but don’t help us to be conscious of what or how much we are eating. By setting time aside to do nothing but eat – whether with the family or alone -  we can be more aware of how much we are consuming and enjoy what we are eating by focusing on the meal.
Engage the senses
When we eat a meal, it’s hard to be fully focused – we’re often thinking instead of what we have to do next. Allow yourself to spend at least 20 minutes focusing on your meal by paying attention to the foods on your plate. Fire up your senses and become aware of foods’ smells, flavors, colors, textures and sounds – you’re likely to appreciate each bite more by eating mindfully, and yet being satisfied with less.
Understand fullness
We’ve all had a meal – especially during the holidays – which leaves our stomachs so bloated that we need to unbutton our pants. While those occasions of overeating may be rare, many people make a habit of eating until they are quite full, rather than eating only enough so they are no longer hungry. This process can be challenging for those who were raised to clean their plates or who fear wasting food. Start by serving yourself less and consider what some experts recommend - leave at least one bite on your plate. Eat slowly and mindfully and notice how you feel when you eat until you are simply no longer hungry, rather than eating until you’re stuffed.  
In our always-on world, it can be tough to take the time to be attentive to how, when, where and why we eat, rather than considering it an item on our to-do list. Mindful eating allows us to pause and think about what kind of foods we are consuming, and how much. Becoming aware of when and why we snack and taking the time to sit down and without distractions to eat a meal enables us to enjoy our food, learn about our eating patterns and reap the benefits of more healthy and nutritious meals.
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Susan Bowerman