On mindful eating; what a hospital stay can teach you

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Last week I spent six days largely confined to a hospital room. No, not mine, I’m fine thank you. My 9-year old daughter’s. She had pneumonia (better now, thanks again) and was stuck in bed on oxygen and IV antibiotics.

To say that my usually full schedule was thrown for a loop is an understatement. Not only did I miss a week’s worth of workouts (in retrospect, I’m referring to it as a ‘planned rest week’), but I also desperately missed my refrigerator and kitchen cupboards.

I’ve been in hospitals enough this past year to be completely familiar with the cafeteria’s offerings. Heavy on the starchy carbs, fats and processed sugars with very few ‘clean’ meals available. The irony of a place of healing serving such unhealthy food never ceases to amaze me. (Immediately after childbirth, new moms are continually hounded by the nursing staff as to whether they’ve had a bowel movement; certainly a lot harder when the only fruit you’re served comes wrapped in jello and veggies are canned and overcooked. But I digress.)


So I did what I usually do when I’m out of the house for the day. I pack my cooler in the morning. Lots of fresh veggies, cut and washed. Two servings of low sugar fruit. Cooked chicken breasts and hard-boiled eggs. Some unsalted nuts and a bit of brown rice or sweet potato to fill me up. And water, of course. Plenty of water. (And my sister brought me a ME-approved protein bar which I absolutely loved; thanks sis!)

I ate my planned meals and snacks when I was hungry, as opposed to when the clock said I should. I drank lots of water (why are hospitals always so dry?) and minimal coffee (if it’s not Italian espresso, it’s not worth sipping :)). Most nights I went to bed a wee bit hungry (can’t remember when the last time that happened was).

At the end of the week, I came home and hopped on the scales. Down 3 pounds in 6 days.

Pretty sure that it’s neither water weight (light colored pee, you know) nor muscle (no measurable change in strength according to Sunday and Monday’s workouts). Plus, my belly is flat(ter).

What happened? I know exactly what I did differently.

Without continuous access to my refrigerator and pantry, I ate only the foods I packed for myself in the morning. In the morning. When I have complete control of my faculties and am determined that ‘today’ is going to be the cleanest day yet.

There was no opportunity to grab another handful of nuts or a (home made) protein bar or a piece of bread. Those little extras are never consumed mindfully; sometimes I catch myself eating without even realizing that I’ve opened the refrigerator or cupboard door. Without ever having felt hungry in the first place. Without thinking about how those additional calories would impact my fitness and nutrition goals.

This week, back at home in my kitchen, I’m taking extra care. I’ve returned to planning my nutrition a day in advance. Packing up single servings of leftovers to eat for lunch the following day. Thinking hard about whether or not I’m hungry when I venture into the kitchen for a snack.

Thankful to a hospital stay for the reminder to eat mindfully again.

Have you ever found yourself eating something and been unable to remember the act of preparing it or removing it from the fridge or the cupboard?

What time of day do you find it most difficult to be mindful of your nutrition? 

Do you have any strategies that you use to reduce mindless eating? I’d love to hear them!

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  1. Thanks Tamara – this post was written for me! After training/chatting with you yesterday, I’ve been thinking about my eating habits more and my ‘mindless’ eating. I like this idea of planning the day’s meals early in the day as I’m always motivated to stay on track in the am until about 3 in the afternoon and then the ‘mindless’ eating can begin. I’m going to try this strategy tomorrow.
    So, glad for you and your family that your daughter is home and on the mend.

    • Yes, just for you Jennifer! I wish that mindless eating weren’t so prevalent. Definitely get back to planning and tracking and paying attention to your emotional state when you’re eating. You can so do this!

  2. I am so glad your daughter is ok. Pneumonia is tough! Hopefully things will be getting back to normal for your family now:) It is no fun when someone is in the hospital. And you are so right about the hospital food. I would love to see recovery rates if patients were suddenly fed wholesome and nutritious foods instead of the stuff they feed you. I find it really sad that they don’t:(

    • Melanie,
      I think there’s a business opportunity here. Just imagine if a new, whole, natural foods catering company came on the scene and could compete with the price point of the typical hospital caterers… I guess then people wouldn’t be in such a hurry to go home!

  3. The whole going to hospital to heal and being fed a bunch of crud has always baffled me…it just does not make sense. A mindful approach to anything is valuable but I really agree that how you start the day with food etc can often set the tone for the remainder.

    Great to hear that your daughter is well…you must feel a whole lot lighter!

    • Thanks Kirri! It’s great to have her home again. I am continuing with my practice of packing my cooler each morning, even when I’m only out of the house for half a day. It really cuts down on the mindless snacking…