Did you know that when it comes to eating, how is nearly as important as what? Mindful eating means paying attention to the way food affects your senses (sight, taste, smell, texture), how it makes you feel physically and emotionally and any thoughts that arise. It’s all about being aware in the present moment as you’re eating, without distractions.
Eating mindfully can help you get clear about your food choices and prevent “auto-pilot” munching. (For example, are you eating out of genuine hunger, because the clock says it’s time for lunch or because you’re feeling stressed out?) This can lead to healthier eating behaviors, like becoming more aware of portion size, pinpointing your “triggers” and recognizing what it means to feel genuinely hungry and full. It can also give you more enjoyment and satisfaction from food by creating opportunities to savor every bite and appreciate the nourishment you’re giving your body.
A key component of mindful eating is practicing a nonjudgmental awareness of your eating patterns. Embrace the idea that there’s no right or wrong way (or thing) to eat, just varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food. So, even if your answer to “why am I eating?” is “because I’m bored, stressed or lonely,” the goal is not to beat yourself up, but to simply become more cognizant of your “why” so you can understand your own behaviors.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
- Practice self-care. Any act of mindfulness–time you spend simply being aware in the present moment, without judgment–is time you’re not fretting about something that happened in the past or might happen in the future. Many of us are accustomed to eating quickly (at work, in the car, etc.) because we’re trying to get to the next thing we have to do. Think of mindful eating as time you set aside for yourself (and your family) to give yourself some mental clarity and a break from the demands of daily life. You don’t even have to eat mindfully at every meal to reap the benefits.
- Reduce “mindless” eating. Being more aware of your food choices can help curb the tendency to eat for reasons other than hunger (i.e. boredom, stress, anxiety, loneliness, etc.) and to get more in tune with what and how much you’re eating. (We’ve all had the experience of eating straight out of the bag or box and somehow it ends up empty before we realize it.) Being mindful of what and how much you’re eating puts you back in control.
- Change behaviors. If you tend to overeat, you may not be aware that you’re eating past the point of fullness until after you’ve stopped eating. By bringing conscious awareness to the entire eating process, you increase your ability to recognize true hunger and fullness and consider the specific foods (and amounts) you choose to eat. This is a huge first step toward behavior change. Mindfulness helps you move away from reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting towards more intentional ones.
- Increase enjoyment. Rather than “scarfing down” whatever’s on your plate, you’ll savor your food and hopefully appreciate the meal even more. Eating mindfully doesn’t necessarily mean just eating “slowly.” It’s also about contemplating how the specific foods will nourish and replenish your body.
- Get more nutrients. Eating mindfully improves digestion and aids in the absorption of nutrients. It also gives your brain and stomach a chance to communicate so that you know when you’re full.
- Support weight loss. Authors of a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that overweight or obese participants who learned to eat mindfully achieved significant decreases in weight or maintained their weight.
Start with a raisin, grape, strawberry, piece of cheese or chocolate.
First hold the food in your hand and observe its appearance and texture. Is there an aroma? What do you notice about the shape or color? What kind of changes do you notice in your body as you observe this food? Do you notice an impulse to immediately put the food in your mouth? Do any thoughts or emotions arise?
Place a small amount of the food in your mouth, but do not chew. After 30-60 seconds, start chewing. Take note of the taste, effects on your mouth or other parts of your body and how it makes you feel emotionally.
After you’ve finished eating, ask yourself these questions:
- What did I notice about the flavor or texture before I started chewing?
- What about after I started chewing?
- How does this compare with my typical experience eating that food?
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