As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the connection between nutrition and our overall health has never been more important to understand and nurture. Healthy eating is especially important for keeping the immune system in good shape to protect the body against disease.
Haiyan Maier, who teaches in Florida State University’s Department of Nutrition, Food & Exercise Sciences, said a mindful approach to eating often helps individuals stay on track during a stressful, unpredictable time.
Maier, who earned her doctorate from FSU in 2013, teaches a variety of nutritional–based courses, such as Medical Nutrition Therapy, the Science of Nutrition and a practicum course which allows students to gain hands-on practical experience through shadowing.
The focus of her courses varies, but they all have the same underlying message — mindfulness and mindful eating. She also trains students to cultivate qualities of concentration, clarity and equanimity.
Maier explained “mindful eating” as the act of training ourselves to pay closer attention to exactly what we are eating and how it affects us.
“People should pay attention to food instead of leaving it on automatic-pilot mode,” Maier said. “Simply applying moment-to–moment awareness to food and eating can be crucial for bringing positive changes. In the same way that mindfulness can have a positive influence on our relationships with pain, fear, time and people, it can also be used to transform our relationship with food.”
Maier suggested not to eat while there are distractions as this then crosses into “mindless eating.”
“When you are mindlessly eating, you tend to gobble the food down without paying attention or savoring the taste,” she said. “Eating with distractions such as working, watching TV or reading a book has a tendency to cause overeating, therefore overweight and obesity issues might arise.”
Her courses enlighten students on the secrets discovered in five places around the world that are considered the original “Blue Zones,” where people thrive into their 100s and are their healthiest. These areas include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
“The overall nutrition recommendation from the Blue Zones are to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of plant-based proteins, such as nuts, seeds and beans, while limiting animal products,” Maier said. “There are also ideas in helping people to handle the stress under COVID-19.”
Maier’s courses also focus on assessing the nine types of hungers, which can be triggered by different senses, physical needs or emotions.
“These different types of hunger control the amount and type of food people consume,” she said. “The ultimate purpose of eating is to nourish our body, not a coping mechanism for depression, fear or boredom.”
Maier said that before reaching for your favorite candy bar, be aware of the information from each aspect of hunger and which type of hunger you feel. Then, make a wise and mindful decision about what to eat and how much to eat.
While maintaining a balanced diet, Maier emphasized the importance of a daily exercise regimen.
“You should try to participate in any type of physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day, such as walking, jogging, biking, hiking, swimming, gardening, yoga or resistance training,” Maier said. “Keep in mind that the purpose of exercise is not to lose weight; exercise can make you feel happier and healthier.”
Maier also recommended that people take advantage of this unique time of isolation to cultivate a new hobby or strive to achieve inner peace through daily meditation.
“By cultivating mindfulness, we can train our mind to make better decisions in all aspects of life including nutrition and lifestyles that ultimately lead to a happier and healthier life.”
— Haiyan Maier
“By cultivating mindfulness, we can train our mind to make better decisions in all aspects of life including nutrition and lifestyles that ultimately lead to a happier and healthier life,” Maier said.
Maier suggested that individuals recognize the six principles of “mindful eating” and try to apply them to their daily lives, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Slow it down
Eating more slowly brings more satisfaction from chewing and savoring. If you don’t love it, leave it; if you love it, savor it.
We must be mindful to know when to stop. Zen masters recommend eating until you are two-thirds full, while the Okinawans say to only eat until you are 80 percent full.
The energy equation
If you consume more energy than you expend, you will gain weight.
Choose food that will satisfy you, but also lower in calories, such as a sliced peach drizzled with honey instead of a hot fudge sundae.
Out of sight, out of mind
Move calorie-dense food out of sight to avoid mindless consumption.
Loving-kindness and the inner critic
Meditation helps to settle and quiet the mind as well as creates space around the inner critic voices.