5 Tips for Mindful Eating
By Leah Riegert, PsyD
Behavioral Health Consultant
Group Health Anderson
Have you ever started with the intent of eating just a few potato chips or cookies and then suddenly realize the whole bag is gone? Often, we are more concerned with the next thing on our to-do list than paying attention to what we are eating.
Our relationship with food can be complicated. Not only do we eat when we are hungry, but frequently we eat when we are bored, stressed, lonely, depressed, anxious, etc. Eating is often the main event at happy occasions such as family gatherings, social activities and celebrations where there is a tendency to overindulge with the crowd.
While food brings comfort, it can also be a source of stress, worry and self-defeating thoughts. All of these factors make it very difficult to slow down and simply enjoy our food.
Mindful Eating is Key to a Healthier Relationship with Food
Mindfulness is the observation of what is happening in the moment, in our thoughts, feelings and emotions, without judgement. Research has shown mindfulness can help regulate mood, boost the immune system and reduce hypertension.
Mindful eating is one way of practicing mindfulness. When practicing mindful eating you focus on the whole experience of eating using all of your senses. Appreciating the bright colors of vegetables, the warmth of a bowl of soup or the natural sweetness of an apple can help you connect with food that nourishes your body. It helps you become more attuned to your body’s signals of hunger or fullness and can stop mindless snacking and overeating. Mindful eating can help you develop habits that become a part of a more healthful lifestyle. Long term it can help you maintain a healthy weight and increase satisfaction with the food you eat.
Tips for Mindful Eating
Learning to eat mindfully is a skill you can develop. To begin, start with one meal per day, or even your morning coffee. Try these six tips to help you get started.
1. Listen to Your Body
Notice if you want to eat because you are hungry (stomach growling) or because of non-hunger cues. If you are not hungry, try to determine what you are feeling. If it’s thirst, drink some water. If you are bored, try a walk, play a game or read a book. If you are anxious or stressed, try some deep breathing or mediation. Food is fuel for your body and not a band aid for feelings.
2. Rate Your Hunger
Use a scale such as 0= starving; 5= neutral 10= over-stuffed to rate your hunger. Rate your hunger before you eat and again about half way through your meal or snack. When you have finished eating wait about 15 minutes and rate your hunger again. Notice how your feelings of hunger and satisfaction change when you eat. Using this scale regularly will help you determine when you are truly hungry and can help you to stop eating when you are satisfied rather than overeating.
3. Cut the Distractions
Turn the TV off. Put the phone down. Pay attention when you notice distractions and gently turn your attention back on your meal. You may be surprised how difficult staying focused is for you. Like any other skill you develop, mindful eating takes time to learn and improves with practice.
4. Plan to Eat More Slowly and Allow Enough Time
A feeling of fullness comes from a variety of signals your body sends to your brain after you begin eating which can take up to 20 minutes. Eating too quickly means you can overeat before your brain gets the signal you’re full. Allow enough time to sit down and eat mindfully so you can recognize when you are satisfied.
5. Make Eating an Experience
Notice your surroundings. Take a minute to appreciate the people who grew, delivered and prepared the food you are about to eat. Use all of your senses and observe the smells, colors, texture, temperature, taste/flavor of what you are eating. You may find that practicing these habits leads you to make more conscious food choices and more enjoyable meals.
Mindful eating is a simple and no cost way to improve your relationship with food and create a more healthful lifestyle.