There is not a holiday feast, birthday celebration or meal of any kind, when people with diabetes don’t have to pay very close attention, not only to what they eat but how that food is potentially going to affect their blood sugar. This kind of “mindful eating” is both the challenge and the key to successful diabetes self-management. That is why teaching people to make healthy choices and eat balanced meals is at the core of diabetes education at the Berrie Center for people with both type 1 (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D).
Courtney Melrose, CDE, RD, MPH who teaches the T2D education classes said, “People often tell me after they’ve taken the classes that I'm now the voice in their head when they make food decisions. It doesn’t have to be my voice! My hope is that people learn how to be their own voice.
“Taking the time to think and be mindful prior to making decisions about what we eat does not come easy or natural to most people,” said Courtney. “In the moment you’re thinking ‘what am I craving? What do I want?’ instead of, ‘what does my body need right now? How will this food affect my blood sugar?’ I’m asking patients to think about food in a different way than they always have, and this isn’t easy.”
Berrie Center dietitians teach patients to make healthy food choices and eat balanced meals. “We do this by teaching patients about macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The ability to distinguish between these is necessary to achieve balance and make good choices,” said Courtney.
One of Courtney’s goals is to present nutrition information in a digestible way. “I ask my patients to try to take the time to ask themselves, ‘Is this snack going to work for me?’ Or, ‘is this food going to work against me?’ Sometimes asking these questions will encourage healthy decisions. All foods can fit when the approach to eating is deliberate and thoughtful.
“I want my patients to have higher expectations for their food. Similar to the expectation they would have when they take their car to a mechanic! You’d expect the mechanic to put in quality parts to get the job done, especially because you are paying for this service! So often though, we don’t have this sort of expectation for our food.”
The words “mindful eating” have come together of late in the popular culture—in books, websites and articles from the Harvard School of Public Health to the food section of the New York Times, which published an article on “mindful eating” titled Food for Thought. The concept describes the way people enjoy their meals as a sensory experience—tasting the flavors, enjoying the colors, textures and aromas.
At the Berrie Center’s Caroline Bohl, CDE, RD and yoga instructor said, “I believe mindful eating is becoming aware of the real aspect of food (it’s for nutrition and nourishment) and trying to find an appreciation for the positive impact food is meant to have on our bodies.” Also, Caroline said that many nutritionists and educators see mindful eating as a strategy for people who struggle with a host of food issues including weight, cravings, binging and portion control.
If you are interested in learning more about mindful eating, talk to your endocrinologist or diabetes educator about taking one of the Berrie Center’s classes on nutrition.