Do You Practice Mindful Eating?
Chances are you’ve eaten something within the past few hours, yet can you remember what you ate? How did your body feel during and after? If you are like most people, it’s likely you were doing another activity while eating, such as driving, watching TV, or browsing on your phone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, yet is doing something else more than half of that time. These distractions can lead to mindless eating, and an overall lack of awareness when it comes to what we are eating, and how our bodies feel. When eating mindlessly, one might eat when they are not truly hungry, overeat, and not pay much attention to whether the food is a healthful choice.
Some experts, including nutritionist Lilian Cheung, believe that mindless eating is potentially contributing to the national obesity epidemic and other health issues. Through practicing mindful eating, we can make choices that best support our health and wellbeing. As defined by The Center for Mindful Eating, “Mindfulness is the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to one’s experience, in the moment, without judgement.” Mindful eating involves being aware of how we feel regarding food choice as well as the experience of eating.
Paying attention, to the way in which we eat, includes aspects such as noticing the pace of our eating, the amount of food we are eating, our feelings about the food we are eating, and the environment in which we are eating. Do we feel rushed to finish eating, or do we take our time to enjoy the food- taking notice of the taste, texture, and aromas? Are we listening to the needs of our body and fully nourishing ourselves, or are we over or under eating? Do we have negative feelings surrounding food choices, or are we allowing ourselves to be positively nourished?
In paying attention our choices, we not only gain awareness of how we feel about our choices, but also notice the impact that these choices have on our bodies. We realize that the mind and body are deeply connected- our food choices impact the wellness of our physical body, and our minds. The emotions we have surrounding food can have a positive or negative impact on our mental wellbeing. We see that we can spend time worrying about our choices, or we can work on fulfilling our needs. When becoming aware of patterns of eating, instead of allowing our emotions to take control of our actions, we are able to acknowledge our emotions and then act in ways which are empowering, instead of falling into cycles.
Another aspect to mindful eating is the connection that our food choices impact other people and the world at large. In becoming aware of food system issues, we are able to engage in making positive change through our food purchases, such as supporting local farms when possible, or eating more seasonally. Eating mindfully is truly a practice of gratitude for all of life. We appreciate all the energy that has gone into the food we are eating- everything from the warmth of the sun, the nourishment of the soil, the softness of the water, the work of the growers and farmers, and all of the other resources and people involved in the production and transportation, as well as the effort that goes into the preparation of the food. By eating mindfully, we practice appreciation and respect.
Here are some mindful eating tips:
Create a shopping list
Going into the store with ideas of healthful meals you want to prepare can help you stay focused. As you place items into your cart, take time to consider if the food choices are ones that will nourish your body. Purchase fresh, seasonal foods, and buy local when possible.
Take a couple minutes before each meal to appreciate your food and all the effort getting it to your plate.
Share meals with others
Sharing and enjoying food with other people is a great way to practice mindful eating. Consider devoting five or more minutes, at the beginning of mealtimes, to mindful eating before beginning conversation.
Take small bites and chew your food
Taking small bites of food is a mindful eating practice, which encourages one to slow down. Thoroughly chew your food and pay attention to the flavors you are tasting. Slowing down is one of the most important aspects of mindful eating. Did you know that the body sends its satiation signal, about 20 minutes after eating, to the brain? This is one reason why we often unconsciously overeat. By slowing down, we allow our brains to catch up with our bodies’ signal.
Listen to your body’s signals
When you go to eat, take the time to think: “Am I listening to an emotional want, or to my body’s needs?” Notice if you are actually hungry by paying attention to your body’s signals; is your stomach grumbling, or do you feel low energy? Limiting distractions (i.e., TV, phone, driving) will help you focus on your body’s needs and wants. When your body sends you hunger signals, eat.
Next time you go to eat, bring your full attention and awareness to the experience.