What is mindful eating?
Ever gobbled down an entire bag of chips without even realizing you were eating? Do you find yourself rummaging through the fridge when you’re bored or stressed? Mindful eating focuses on the experience of eating and actually enjoying and being aware of what you’re putting into your mouth. It can also provide great insight into what is actually driving you to want to eat.
Are you truly hungry, or are you eating to pass time or soften the blow of a hard day at work? This doesn’t mean that we can only eat to fuel our bodies, when we’re hungry and nothing else. Sometimes we eat something just because it tastes damn delicious and we are going to enjoy every bite. Amen to that. What we want to avoid is leaning on food as a crutch to cope with the stresses or disappointments of life. Mindful eating encourages you to savour each bite of food, appreciating everything from the visual appearance to the flavour and texture, and truly enjoy the experience of eating, without guilt.
Benefits of Mindful Eating:
Sound a little too good to be true? There’s plenty of research supporting its benefits.
- Healthier relationship with food: Studies have shown that mindful eating decreases disordered eating and promotes a preference for healthier food.
- Weight management: Mindful eating is all about honouring your hunger cues to stop you from overeating. A study found that a group of women who practiced mindful eating lost more weight compared to other weight management programs.
- Improved digestion: Chewing your food is the first step in digestion. Mindful eating encourages you to chew your food slowly and eat in a stress free environment which also helps ease digestion.
- Increased enjoyment and satisfaction: You’ll enjoy your meals so much more when you take the time to savour your food.
Mindful vs. Mindless Eating:
Eating behaviors are often so automatic, that they aren’t always driven by physical hunger. Understanding the different types of hunger can help you identify your ‘triggers’ and prevent you from falling into the cycle of mindless eating:
- Mouth Hunger: One of the biggest factors that affect our food choices is the taste of food. If we don’t take the time to appreciate the different sensations of food such as texture and flavor, we may not feel satisfied and end up overeating.
- Stomach Hunger: The stomach cues our physical hunger, giving us signals such as growling or an empty feeling. Listening to these hunger cues can help you eat when you need to and recognize when you start to feel full, mindfully.
- Heart Hunger: Another reason why people feel ‘hungry’ is because they’re upset and trying to fill a void. Emotional eating or eating for comfort might feel good in the moment, but won’t satisfy in the long-term.
Tips to Eat Mindfully:
You can practice mindful eating anywhere, from your dining table to your office desk. Use these tips to eat mindfully wherever you are!
- Awareness is key: Understand why you are eating. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry or just bored? What type of hunger are you experiencing?
- Sit down and slow down: Take time to chew your food slowly to help you recognize when you start to feel full. Put your cutlery down every few bites so you don’t feel rushed to swallow your food right away.
- Channel your inner ‘foodie’: Chew slowly to enjoy each bite, using your senses. Savour the appearance, texture, flavors, and smells of your food.
- Gratitude: Pause for a moment before you dig-in. Take time to be grateful for your food, the preparation involved, and for nourishing your body.
- Clear space, clear mind: Eating isn’t exactly the best time for multi-tasking. Remove distractions such as your phone or avoid mindlessly munching on snacks while watching T.V. At work, it can be as simple as taking your lunch outside or switching off your computer to de-stress.
- Serving size matters: Pre-portion your food, such as snacks, so that you’re not eating right out of the bag and constantly tempted to reach for more.
- Pack the leftovers: If you’re at a restaurant, don’t try to clean your plate if you’re filled to the brim. Ask to get it packed instead.
- Start small: New to mindful eating? Start off by choosing one meal a day to eat mindfully and move up from there.
Here’s a helpful infographic to help you put mindful eating into practice!
Thank you to my student Volunteer, Naomi Oh, for her hard work in helping to put this together!