By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
So many of us are routinely in such a hurry that we don’t take time to truly enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures: food. Let’s be honest. How many of you make a point to step away from your desk at work to enjoy a nutritious lunch and socialize with coworkers? What about sitting down for breakfast and really savoring each bite and sip of coffee? Do you eat dinner with the TV on or while scrolling through your phone? If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you could unintentionally be eating more calories than you realize, wreaking havoc on your digestive system. Ever wonder what would happen if you stopped Googling bloated stomach remedies and—gasp—actually enjoyed the food in front of you? Here’s how a few mindful eating exercises can change your life.
Thankfully, being aware that this could be an issue is the first step towards working on changing it. Becoming more mindful around eating and how your body responds to food is an exercise in being more attuned to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. This article will help you understand exactly what mindful eating is, how to practice it, and the benefits that come along with listening to your body.
According to Dietitian Amy Goldsmith RDN, based out of Frederick MD:
“Most individuals lose their hunger and satiety intuitiveness around the age of 5, or when they enter grade school, simply because they switch from eating when they need energy to eating when they have a designated lunchtime.”Amy Goldsmith RDN
Unfortunately, this method of being told that you need to eat at a specific time becomes the norm whether we’re hungry or not. How many times have you looked at the clock at noon and thought “It’s time for lunch”? When you may have just had breakfast at 10 am and you’re not even hungry yet.
When you practice mindful eating, you become more aware of how your body feels and what it needs. It’s a nutritional strategy that throws out food rules in favor of psychological awareness. It emphasizes the importance of increasing your sensitivity to your internal hunger and fullness signals. This helps you develop a greater understanding of how your body is reacting to your eating habits, and encourages healthy stomach functions in the present moment.
The good thing about mindful eating is that anyone can use these tips no matter what eating style they follow, because it’s not about WHAT you eat but rather HOW you eat. That means whether you follow a keto diet, paleo, or vegan plan, using these techniques can be incorporated to help you fully enjoy your food choices even more.
When you first start to feel a little bit hungry, feed your body what it needs. Otherwise, you can set yourself up for ravenous hunger and overeat at your next meal. Once you reach this point of excessive hunger, all good intentions of mindful eating flee and become irrelevant. Learning to honor your first signs of biological hunger sets the stage for an intuitive eating approach to become reality.
When you slow down the pace of your eating instead of just shoveling down your food, it helps your body break it down more efficiently and gives you time to savor each bite. Sometimes we wait until we’re so “hangry” to eat that we inhale our food so quickly and barely enjoy it. Slowing down will help you notice not only the taste of your food but your emotions as well. Savoring each bite will help you learn to use all your senses when you eat. This will help you determine how much you really like the food and whether you’re truly hungry or just eating as an emotional response.
After a meal is over, take some time to focus on your inner feelings. Do you feel sluggish, energized, anxious or calm? Listen for your body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Pause during eating and pay attention to how the food tastes, and what your current fullness level is. The days of being forced to clean your plate are over. Listen to your body instead, and you’ll be eating mindfully in no time.
This might be the most difficult challenge for many of us. Make an effort to sit down for every meal without any devices or screens whenever possible. To eat mindfully, you need to be present and focus on the food in front of you. Additionally, do not think about your To-Do list or plans for the day. Instead, learn to derive pleasure and satisfaction from the eating experience without distraction. Take notice of what your food looks like, and observe the color, shape, taste, smell, texture, and quality. Observe your own reactions and emotions while eating. By eating undistracted, you will be more in tune with your body to know when you are getting full, which could help prevent overeating.
Eating more mindfully is about honoring and respecting your health and your body. It is about learning or relearning to pay attention to the signals your body is telling you to meet both your physical and emotional needs. We live in a culture that has so many platforms to provide you with messages about how or what you should be eating. Over time, we start to believe that this is what we should be doing. However, never forget that YOU are the only true expert of your own body. No diet guru could possibly know what is best for you and your lifestyle. By tuning into your own body’s cues and tuning out all the diet chatter and nonsense, you can relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food and honor your body’s needs. It takes time and practice, but it will soon become second nature.