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Mindful Eating: A Healthy Take on Traditional Cultural Foods

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On Jillian Michaels' TV show Losing it With Jillian, the fitness guru visited a Native American tribe, the Yavapai Apache, to help them lose weight and be healthier. Their community is struggling with high rates of obesity.

Jillian stepped on a few toes when she expressed horror and outrage that the community was eating traditional Fry Bread (click here to see what is in it). In fact, a teenager threw food on Jillian and called her an "idiot" when she put the Fry Bread in the trash. She called it "poison." It is no surprise that Jillian felt as strongly as she did. Jillian is passionate about her job and about helping people manage their weight. Each week, she expresses her commitment to this goal on the show. She is amazing in her dedication to helping people make healthier choices. In the show, she used creative strategies to get this group engaged and dedicated to changing their unhealthy eating habits.

Jillian discovered that her stance on cultural foods is a controversial topic. This was pretty clear by the reaction of the community. Jillian's stance was unwavering. She seemed to suggest that you should nix culturally infused foods if they aren't the healthiest.

There was some debate about whether Fry Bread is a "traditional Indian food." But, no matter what culture you come from, it's likely that you have particular foods that are part of your heritage. So what do you do? Give up your Knish, tamales and handmade perogies?

This is where mindful eating can be helpful. You can still eat foods important to your culture but in a new way. It is about savoring them, eating mindful portions and balancing it in your life.

In my family, for example, each year we make Pupa Cu L'ova (Italian Easter bread basket egg cookies). I admit these cookies are not the healthiest. But, they are a very rich part of our family history. My cousins gather to help make the cookies. It takes hours. As we roll and ice, we swap old stories about our grandmother from Brooklyn and holidays when we were little and watched the adults make these cookies at our great grandmother's house.

These are not cookies that people eat mindlessly. Each person is only allocated two cookies. You can imagine that it's almost impossible to gobble them down when you know how much effort it took to make them. My relatives share stories about how they mindfully eat these special cookies. Some pop them in the microwave. Others like them cold. My cousin saves them until Easter. My uncle sits in his favorite chair with a cup of coffee and dunks the cookie in slowly, bite by bite.

For everyday cultural dishes, we've simply tailored some of the recipes to make them healthier. We've swapped pork sausage for turkey sausage and drastically cut down on the cheese in my great grandmother's lasagna. I swear no one ever noticed the difference. I feel fortunate that we've held onto our heritage while helping everyone in the family to be healthier. Today, our family gatherings are a melting pot of traditions and cultural foods. We've all made an effort to make the dishes healthier.

So, if you are struggling with eating the cultural foods you love in a mindful way, consider learning more about the concept of mindful eating. I believe you can enjoy foods that are important to your history as long as you do it in a mindful way.

Feel free to share stories about the foods important to your culture and how YOU eat them mindfully.

Again, thank you to Jillian for getting so many people motivated to start prioritizing their health.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and a Huffington Post blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health and Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV Show. Visit Albers online at www.eatingmindfully.com

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