Mindfulness in Eating

Last week I left you with a little teaser about the mindfulness series I would be posting, and this week is the first installment: Mindfulness in Eating. 

Intuitive eating – or, paying close attention to hunger cues – are wonderful approaches to eating in a more mindful way, and this post will take it a step further.

I’m giving you 5 specific actions to practice that will bring mindfulness into your existing eating habits that will in turn put you more in touch with your hunger cues and on the path to intuitive eating. Let’s get started!

Tune Out and Tune In

We’ve become accustomed to treating our meals – especially breakfast and lunch – as a secondary activity we do while catching up on email, texting, shopping online, watching TV, etc. How often are you surprised you’re down to your last bite, or scrape your spoon across an empty bowl?

We’re highly distracted while eating and miss out on the enjoyment food should bring. Not only that, we ignore any signs of being full and the experience of the flavors when we’re completely wrapped up in the other various things we’re doing.

What to do instead: Pick one meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) that you typically multitask during and for the next full week remove all distractions. If you’re tempted to check your phone or computer, leave them in another room or eat at a different spot. Maybe listen to music or something you won’t be completely absorbed in, but place your primary focus on your meal. Notice how it tastes, how full you feel throughout, what flavors and textures you love. 

Measure by First Taste 

The all-or-nothing approach to eating is a struggle for a lot of us. The first part of your meal is so delicious that you keep eating until it’s gone. This isn’t a big deal when you’re cooking at home and have reasonable portions, but when  you’re given 5 pounds of pasta at a restaurant, or open a new bag of tortilla chips and salsa, it’s easy to go overboard past the point of enjoyment.

“I’ve already eaten more than I should, I may as well finish it.”

What to do instead: Be a food critic! Judge how that first taste satisfies you and check in when you’re 1/4 of the way through whatever you’re eating. Is it still delicious? Are you still hungry for more? Are you eating another bite because you fully enjoy the experience or just because there’s more left? Check in when there’s 1/2 and just 1/4 left so you stay engaged with the food and your enjoyment of it the entire time.

Change it Up

I love a good routine, they help cut down on choices and overthinking our actions throughout the day which drains your willpower. However, the monotony that aids us in some aspects, allows us to become complacent in ways that aren’t so helpful when it comes to mindfulness. Whether you make the same thing, sit in the same place, eat at the same time – or all three – it’s easy to become disconnected with your food.

What to do instead: Change something! Sit in a different chair, eat outside, make an entirely different breakfast or change the side dish to your lunch. Anything that will reconnect you to the eating experience. Tonight, try eating dinner at that table you only use for guests!

Slow Your Roll

You go out to a restaurant and the majority of your time is spent looking over the menu and waiting for your food. You cook a delicious meal and what takes you an hour plus to make is scarfed down in 12 minutes. I get it. We eat fast! And when we do, we’re missing out on a lot of information.

We clean our plates and are holding our stomachs minutes later realizing we didn’t actually need those last few bites, or that the green beans were so good this time because the almonds were toasted with some spice you couldn’t quite put your finger on.

What to do instead: “Eating slower” is a little subjective, so here’s a trick from Darya Rose of Summertomato.com by way of the Nutrition Diva Podcast; when your mouth is full, your fork is empty.

Allow yourself to fully chew and swallow your bite before shoving another forkful in. This will not only slow you down and make it less likely to overeat, but you’ll automatically be more in tune with the bite you’re eating and how you’re enjoying it. When not using silverware, set your fork down while you chew.

The Magic Question

A struggle for many – myself included – is getting caught up in the moment and throwing our healthier habits out the window. Cutting through the candy aisle and tossing Oreo’s in your cart. Plating up at a buffet and getting some of everything available. Stocking up at the farmer’s market and finding yourself in line for a Nutella crepe (that one is oddly specific for a reason). It’s easy to give into a craving – whether it’s an indulgent treat or going back for seconds – without much thought if any at all, and we often regret it as soon as we’re done.

What to do instead: When you feel the tug to ignore healthy eating habits, ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” Sometimes it will be worth it; a homemade cookie from your favorite local bakery, a dinner our with your spouse on your anniversary, or having doughnuts from a famous shop for breakfast on vacation.

But, sometimes it won’t be. Stopping to ask “is this worth it?” can stop you from loading up on mashed potatoes at the buffet because when you think about it, you only really like your grandma’s mashed potatoes, or having another cookie when the first one was just OK.

Don’t let these tips overwhelm you! Pick one to do today, and perhaps another one tomorrow. The more you practice these strategies, the more natural they will feel and you’ll stop thinking about what you’re doing do eat mindfully, you’ll be eating mindfully automatically.

Up next week: Mindfulness in Relationships.

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