Slow Down and Savor with Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is a buzzword showing up everywhere these days. But, what does it actually mean to be mindful? And, how does mindfulness connect to our eating habits, day-to-day lives and overall health?
To be mindful means that you are actively focused on and engaged in the present moment. Your mind is not distracted by what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future. When you’re in a state of mindfulness, you are fully aware and paying attention to what is happening in the present - right here, right now - and you observe that experience without judgement. You aren’t just going through the steps of life - you are living them. Mindfulness can be practiced when we eat, giving us the opportunity to pay attention to our food instead of allowing our minds to be focused on other things.
Being mindful when we eat is a powerful practice. Early research shows that it has the potential to help obese adults change eating behaviors and attitudes about food, helping with weight loss, and reducing risk for chronic disease.
Think about your daily meals. What does the experience typically look like? Do you eat while driving to work? While standing up and doing other chores? Do you often have dinner or late night snacks while watching your favorite Netflix show, or catching up on social media posts from the day? Do you take the time to see, smell, taste, and fully experience each bite, or do you scarf the food down because you’re really hungry or in a rush? Are you eating in response to feeling hungry, or is it because you feel bored, stressed, or alone?
Mindful eating is the exact opposite of all of the above descriptions. It focuses on slowing down enough to be truly present and aware of the food you are eating, without distraction. By paying attention to your meal, instead of the computer, television, or phone screen (or maybe all three at once if you’re a true multitasker), you have the opportunity to experience the following:
Notice the flavors, textures, sounds, and visual beauty of your food
Feel more relaxed during the meal
Eat at a slower pace and recognize when you’ve had enough and feel satiated (it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the “I’m full” signal)
Have you ever noticed that sometimes you are watching your favorite show or working on your computer, and you look down and notice all of your food has somehow disappeared? This is a classic example of mindless eating. Instead of focusing on your food, your focus was on the dialogue between your favorite characters, or analyzing the data on your screen, and you managed to eat a whole bowl of popcorn without even knowing it. Many of us have had this experience in our modern life where we are trying to squeeze so many things into every minute.
Frequent mindless eating like this can be a sign that we are overeating, which could contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing weight. By incorporating a more mindful eating practice and placing focus on our food, we can become more in tune with our body’s hunger levels, and stop eating when we feel full. This can help reach our health goals.
Wondering where to start? Try experimenting with some of these tips to eat more mindfully:
Avoid staring at screens. Try to silence your cell phone, not watch television, and not look at your computer while you eat your meal. See a personal story of what happened when this woman spent one week eating screen-free.
Pause in between bites. Give yourself the opportunity to slow down the pace at which you eat by taking a brief break in between bites. Chew your food well, savor the sensations, and enjoy. This will help your body recognize when it’s had enough.
Experiment with eating a meal by yourself. Although eating in social gatherings can be healthy and fun, sometimes you might not be paying as close attention to the amount of food you’re eating. If you are eating with others, make a conscious decision around the amount of food you are putting on your plate, and then try to stick to that.
Use chopsticks, or use your fork with your non-dominant hand. Both of these techniques will help slow you down and encourage mindfulness around each bite.
Pause to notice your body’s hunger signals and emotions before grabbing a snack. Are you physically hungry, or trying to feed a feeling or emotion? You can use this hunger scale as a way to help you figure out your hunger level.
Eat your meals while sitting down at your table. Sometimes it can be easy to grab a snack from the refrigerator or pantry, over and over again, and eventually lose track of how much you’ve eaten. By sitting down with your food, you will be more aware of what, and how much you are eating, even if it is a mid-day snack.
Avoid eating while driving. This will make your ride safer and keep your car cleaner, in addition to allowing mindful eating!
Be guided through mindful eating meditations with the Headspace meditation app. We love this app, but note that you’ll need a subscription to access the mindful eating course.
Try these ideas with curiosity, attempting to let go of any self judgement. Although it may seem daunting at first, you just might discover that eating mindfully is a simple practice that becomes an enjoyable, daily habit that lasts a lifetime.
Have at least one mindful meal each day this week. Think about your typical day and decide which meal is most realistic for you to implement mindful eating techniques.
Once you pick the meal, eat it mindfully, using whichever techniques feels most appropriate to you, every day for a week.
Notice how you feel after eating mindful meals, compared to others eaten with more distractions. Does the food taste better? Did you eat less? What else did you observe?
After a week, take some time to contemplate the things that you noticed, and then determine which techniques you want to continue to include in future meals.