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Dr. Susan Albers

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Mindful Eating: How the MyPlate Icon Can Help

Posted: 06/15/11 06:33 PM ET

Do you like the updated, radically different shape of the food pyramid? If you do, you aren't alone.

Overall, the new MyPlate icon appears to have received positive reviews from across the county. Although some people desire more specifics, the image has been applauded for the simplicity of its design. It is recognizable and relatable to everyone. The image directs our minds back to the very place where we need to refocus our attention. First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, unveiled the new icon to help communicate healthy eating guidelines.

Why was this image so well-received? The icon seems to conveys only one powerful message -- be more mindful of what is on your plate. Numbers and ranges are notably absent. Consider for a moment the previous food pyramid which did contain specific information. It wasn't particularly difficult math or complicated numbers. Yet, emotionally, for many reasons, we didn't seem to completely take it in. Can you remember off the top of your head the number of servings for each food group? The confusion we experienced was likely less about complicated numbers and more about our emotional reaction to it. The new image seems to help people approach, rather than avoid, the idea of healthy eating. This, in itself, is an important first step.

Even the first lady recognized that the new image is mostly about being more aware. "This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we're eating and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country," Obama said.

How does MyPlate fall in line with the idea of mindful eating? How you eat is just as important as what you eat.

•Notice that there are no hard and absolute rules. Rules sometimes remind us too much of dieting.
•Overeating is often about portion sizes. The main message conveyed here is to simply be more aware of the portion sizes of each food group.
•This visual reminder emphasizes balance and takes us back to the basics, the food groups.
If you need more details, no problem. There are supplemental facts provided on the "Choose MyPlate" webpage. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/tipsresources/index.html

Mindful Eating Activities

For Kids: Here are activities to introduce MyPlate early on to your children.

•Print out the plate and cut out each section. Make it into a puzzle. Talk about the pieces. Ask, "Which part is the biggest? Why do you think we make this part bigger than the others? How many different ways could you fill up the cup with dairy items? Yogurt, milk, ice cream etc.
•Have fun with coloring pages while learning http://www.choosemyplate.gov/tipsresources/printmaterials.html

For You and Your Kids:

1) Turn MyPlate into a placemat. Put the image down wherever you eat -- such as right under or next to your plate. Before you eat, do a simple comparison. This is not to judge yourself or critically pick apart your plate. The visual just provides a gentle reminder to check in and look closely at the balance of food on your plate.

2) Listen to a podcast. Learn more about it whenever you have a spare moment.

Thank you Mrs. Obama for unveiling this icon and to all those involved in creating it. We welcome new advice and updates to this image in the coming years because how we eat is always evolving and changing. Eat, drink and be mindful!

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