Eating: if you’re like many people, you’ve developed a complicated relationship with it over the years. Food choices, meal and snack times, portion sizes, calorie counts—simply trying to “eat right” can be very overwhelming sometimes. And, for all the thought people put into what they eat, they often consume meals rather carelessly. When you eat in front of the TV or at your office desk, for example, it’s difficult to give your attention to what you’re eating—and how much. But when you make it a point to eat mindfully instead, it’s much easier to stick to sensible portions while really enjoying each bite. So what does mindful eating look like? Here, I’ll explain more about what it is, why it’s good for you, and how you can make it a regular habit.
What is Mindful Eating?
Stop and think for a minute: when was the last time you sat down to eat slowly and enjoy every bite of a meal (or snack)? If you can’t remember, you’re far from alone. Many people are in the habit of shoveling in food with little thought for what they’re doing. Most people tend to wait until they’re really hungry before they eat, leading them to finish their food too quickly. They also don’t pay attention to portion size or how full they are, which results in overeating and indigestion. It’s no big surprise that these habits are detrimental to both physical and mental well-being. The philosophy of mindful eating aims to change all that.
When you eat mindfully, you are staying aware and “in the moment” as you enjoy your meals and snacks. It involves paying attention to the multi-sensory experience of the food you’re eating. It’s monitoring how much you’ve eaten and how full you feel. And it’s taking the time to appreciate the delicious meal or snack you’ve chosen, bite by bite.
The Benefits of Eating Mindfully
If you’ve never incorporated mindful eating practices into your daily routine, you may be feeling skeptical. (Remember when you were a kid, and you got reprimanded for taking too long to eat?) But the benefits of taking your time at the dinner table are significant. When you eat meals mindfully, you can avoid bingeing (consuming to excess), eating due to stress or boredom, and post-meal consequences like bloating and heartburn. It can help you to lose weight if that’s one of your current goals. It will allow you to relax and enjoy a less complicated, more satisfying relationship with food. And it will help you to be better attuned to your own hunger and fullness cues so that your eating habits are more intuitive. As you can see, healthy eating is about much more than simply loading your plate with nutritious foods. That’s important, of course, but so is your mindset.
Eat Mindfully with these Easy Tips
Let’s check out some small but positive changes you can incorporate into your mealtimes. You can begin as soon as your next snack!
- Create a Grocery List
- Don’t Wait Until You’re Ravenous
- Eliminate Distractions
- Live in the Moment
- Make Eating a Conscious Decision Every Time
Create a Grocery List
Fight the temptation to fill your grocery cart with impulse buys by making a list before heading to the supermarket. Check out some great healthy and tasty recipes, and plan to buy any ingredients not already in your fridge or pantry. The process of planning a meal, shopping for ingredients, and preparing it step-by-step will give you a greater appreciation for the finished product.
Don’t Wait Until You’re Ravenous
Have you ever come to the table feeling famished and just inhaled a burger or plate of spaghetti? Eating mindfully means being aware of your hunger cues and sitting down to eat before you get “hangry.” Try setting an alarm on your smartphone or watch that will remind you to eat a little sooner. If you’re generally starving for lunch by 12:30 PM, for example, try having lunch at 12 on the dot.
A huge part of learning to eat mindfully is being present in the moment. In order to do that, it’s important to minimize anything that takes your attention away from what you’re doing. That means no eating at your desk while answering emails, and no dinners on the couch in front of Netflix. Put away your smartphone, your newspaper or magazine, and your mail, and give your undivided attention to eating. (Of course, it won’t always be possible for you to stop what you’re doing for a meal. But once you’ve gotten the hang of eating mindfully, you’ll be better prepared to work through lunch without overdoing it.)
Live in the Moment
When you do sit down to eat, take a few deep breaths and give your attention to the experience. Take note of how good everything looks and smells. Eat slowly, taking the time to appreciate the texture and flavor of each bite. Monitor yourself for any negative self-talk (“I’d better not overindulge, because I need to lose 5 pounds!”) and try to release it. Pay attention to how full you’re growing, and make the call to put down your fork before you feel stuffed.
Make Eating a Conscious Decision Every Time
Another important aspect of mindful eating is to be sure you eat only when you’re hungry. It might sound obvious, but many people snack for a multitude of other reasons. Before you head to the vending machine, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. Are you bored, stressed, or unhappy instead? If that’s the case, you might try some easy stress reduction techniques rather than engaging in mindless munching. If you need a little guidance, you could download a handy mindfulness app with relaxation exercises led by experts.
Be Patient with Yourself as you Learn to Eat Mindfully
It’s rarely easy to change ingrained habits. So if you find yourself spacing out at dinner after a long day, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’re consistent about trying to be more aware as you eat, you’ll see progress in time. So simply sit, breathe, chew slowly, and enjoy everything on your plate tonight.