By Dietetic Intern Caitlin Galli, MS and Eleanor Baker, MS, RDN, LDN
Our lives have revolved around food for centuries. Eating is more than just providing our bodies with nutrients and energy to keep us going. Food is cultural, it is linked to traditions, memory and emotion. But so often we do not sit down and take the opportunity to enjoy food. Instead, we are in a rush simply going through the motions of eating meals and snacks while we are busy doing something else. Next thing we know, our food is gone, but we don’t feel satisfied.
Has this ever happened to you? If you aren’t sure I challenge you to think of your last meal or snack. Can you describe the flavor? What about the taste or the texture? If you are having trouble remembering, then you may not have given your food your full focus.
It’s time that we put down the distractions and enjoy food for what it is. It’s time to practice mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is bringing awareness and non-judgmental attention to food. It encompasses both the internal and external environments. It teaches you to be aware of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations; how are you feeling? Are you hungry or just board? When it comes to eating, it teaches you to pay attention to your food. What does it smell like, taste like, what texture is the food, how does it make you feel? Mindful eating allows you to be aware of the sensory experiences that comes with eating, but are so often overlooked. Mindful eating can cause a shift in power. No longer will food control you, but with practice you can gain control over what you eat.
Why does mindful eating matter?
Research is growing in the field of mindful eating. Studies are finding that more mindful eating can help reduce weight problems and help us to select healthier choices and less processed foods. Some suggest that mindful eating can be a way to relieve stress and reduce blood pressure as well as chronic gastrointestinal distress.
How to Eat Mindfully
- Be aware
Before you start eating take a moment to think about how you feel. Are you hungry? Maybe you are just board, thirsty, anxious, stressed. Think about what you want to eat, and what your body needs. Are these different, or do they match up? Once you spend a few minutes checking in with yourself you can decide if you really want to eat and what you want to eat.
- Turn off the distractions
This takes many forms. Turn the TV off, put the phone and computer away and sit down. Do not try to eat on the go, if you are focused on getting somewhere, whether it be walking or driving, then you are not focused on eating. Technology is very good at capturing our attention. Put it to the side and keep your attention on what you are eating.
Take a moment to look at your food. Observe the colors, textures, shapes and sizes. Breathe in the sweet scent of your apple or the savory smell of a slow cooked stew. Can you taste the meal through smell? Take a bite. Slowly chew your food and really take time to break down what each flavor tastes like. Is that chocolate really sweet or does it have a more bitter or waxy flavor to it?
- Practice portion control
When snacking place the portion you want to eat on a plate and put the bag or box back into the pantry. Eating a snack right out of the bag leads to over eating and makes it difficult to be aware of how much you have eaten. If you are unsure what portion you should eat, check the nutrition fact label and follow what their recommended serving size is.
- Slow down
It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full. It is easy for us to overeat if our brains still think we are hungry, even when our stomach is full. To slow down, try to chew each bite 30 times. Doing this will also allow you to enjoy the flavors before swallowing. While chewing, put your utensils down. If you are preparing your next bite during your current bite you will not be focusing as much on what you are eating.
- Forget the Clean Plate Club
Many people, were raised to finish all the food on their plate. they were told that to finish their plate because someone is going hungry tonight. You can cancel your membership to this club by being overly aware. Start by adding just enough to your plate and stop when you are full. Our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs. While old habits may die hard, it is helpful to remember that pilling your plate high with food will either cause the food to go to waste or to your waist.
Incorporating Mindfulness to the Holidays
Holiday celebrations are built around food and overeating is common. If you are feeling stressed or nervous about going into this season and undoing all the progress you have made to reach your goals, challenge yourself to pause and take a deep breath. One day (or holiday) will not set you back months of hard work. However, continuing the holiday style eating over the course of a month or more may will have unwanted consequences. On the days leading up to, and following, the holiday, continue healthy eating and mindfulness. When the holiday comes, enjoy the celebration! Just be mindful about what you are eating to avoid overeating.
The holidays are a time for celebration, enjoy them!
- The Center for Mindful Eating. https://thecenterformindfuleating.org/
- Mindful Eating. HarvardHealth Publishing. 2011. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating
- 10 tips for mindful eating—just in time for the holidays. HarvardHealth Publishing. 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/10-tips-for-mindful-eating-just-in-time-for-the-holidays-201511248698