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The keys to mindful eating

Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly provide a general information column to The Baltimore Sun's health blog. The latest post is from Caroline Meehan.

Take a moment to reflect on what you had for each meal yesterday. Do you remember? Where did you eat? On the go, at your desk or at the table? How did you feel?

These questions may prove difficult. While eating a healthy diet is important, mindful eating is often a key component to weight management that often slips under the radar.

Adopting mindfulness around food takes time and practice, so try tackling one or two goals. This may mean establishing a priority to eat dinner around the table three nights per week or to take a walking break on Monday and Friday. Make your goals specific and realistic.

Here are 10 tips to help you adopt a more mindful eating practice.

1. Think of food as nourishment for the body, mind and soul. The way we eat and how we feel often go hand in hand. Eating fried, greasy, high-sugar foods can decrease energy or make you feel sluggish, while eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can lead to increased energy.

2. Sit at the table for each meal and snack. Limit eating on-the-go, in the car, in front of the TV or in the bedroom. This may make you feel more satisfied, limit overeating and increase mindfulness around food.

3. Slow it down. A good rule of thumb is to take 20-30 minutes for meal times. Savor each bite and chew thoroughly.

4. Listen to your body's hunger and satiety cues. When you begin to feel hunger, have a healthy snack if it is not time for a meal. Pairing protein and fiber together is a great snack to choose while you await the next meal. Try an apple and peanut butter or hummus and wheat crackers. Once you begin to feel satisfied, wrap up your leftover portion to store in the fridge. Keep in mind: it can be more difficult to listen to these hunger/satiety cues if you are eating too quickly or on-the-go with distractions.

5. Limit distractions and the use of electronic devices at the table. Turn the television off while eating. Take this time to relax, take a break from work and social media.

6. Be in-tune to the flavors and ingredients. How does your food smell, taste and look? How does it make you feel? Food is a connection that we all share. Be curious about it and share the joys of food and cooking with others.

7. Create a pleasant environment. Set the table, add fresh flowers or play music to make the practice of eating and cooking special.

8. Keep meal times and snack times consistent each day. Routine can help you stay on track with healthy goals, keep blood sugars consistent and help with weight management.

9. Keep all food in one location of the house to help prevent overeating. Serve each meal or snack in the kitchen before heading to the dinner table. It can also help to pre-portion out snacks in the kitchen using snack size plastic bags or containers. Limit eating on the couch, in the bedroom or in multiple locations of the house.

10. Plan meals and snacks to allow yourself more time to enjoy food without feeling rushed. Taking 1-2 hours to prep on a day off or when there is free time can decrease the stress around finding the time to make healthy choices. For instance, wash off fruits and vegetables and place in the fridge so they are quick to grab.

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