Cultivating Mindful Eating Habits for Total Wellness
Many people develop quick eating behaviors as a way to cope with stress or anxiety. Others may find they eat mindlessly because of other distractions, such as watching TV or talking on the phone.
Eating mindfully can help you improve your relationship with food, balance your weight and gain more awareness. It takes time and consistent practice to cultivate mindful habits. D2C brand guides from bettertools.io are sure to help you on your journey to self-improvement.
Engage All Your Senses
In order to truly experience a meal, you must engage all of your senses. This means taking the time to look at the food, smell it, touch it, taste it and observe its texture.
You can also think about the people who grew, picked and prepared your meal. Then take a moment to thank them. You can even make a gratitude list to help you stay connected to your food and the people who made it possible.
The more engaged you are with your food, the more likely you will be to eat it in moderation. It may be difficult at first to tune out distractions, especially if you are used to eating with friends or family members. But the more you practice, the better you’ll become at controlling your behavior and focusing on the meal in front of you.
Eating mindfully can also be hard when you’re at a restaurant. But you can try to eat in silence, or at least turn off the TV and put your phone away. You might even ask for a different table, if you have one available. The only “distraction exception” is when you’re eating with others, and you want to keep the conversation going.
If you find yourself eating out of boredom or because you’re stressed or anxious, stop and think about what you’re really feeling. Then try to do something else, like journaling, taking a walk, doing a crossword puzzle, playing a game or calling a friend to distract yourself from the desire to eat.
If you’re still hungry, eat your food slowly and savor each bite. You’ll be able to recognize your hunger cues and eat only until you feel satisfied, not stuffed. It takes time for your brain to send the signal that you’re full, so if you’re eating too fast, you might overeat before you realize you’re satisfied. The slow, focused approach to eating is key to transforming your relationship with food and building a healthy lifestyle. This isn’t a quick fix, but rather a lifelong habit that can transform your entire well-being.
One of the first mindful eating techniques to try is to eat more slowly. This can help you get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues better, as well as provide a more satisfying food experience. Slowing down can also make it easier to change your dietary habits for the better.
Another way to eat more mindfully is to focus on the sense of taste as you enjoy your meal. Taking the time to notice and appreciate the aroma, shape, texture and flavor of your food can increase your enjoyment and help you savor every bite. It may also help you appreciate the effort and nutrients that went into growing, preparing and cooking your food.
Eating too quickly can lead to overeating, as well as cause you to miss important cues about your hunger and fullness. It can also affect your enjoyment of the food you’re eating, since it takes your brain some time to process what you’ve consumed and feel satisfied.
Mindful eating can help you break this cycle of uncontrolled eating, as you learn to eat only when you’re actually hungry. This can help you stay satiated, avoid overeating and maintain or lose weight over time. It can also give you more control over your cravings and teach you to stop using food as a band aid for feelings like stress, loneliness, sadness or boredom.
Lastly, it can teach you to appreciate the taste and satisfaction of healthy foods. If you’re used to filling up on junk foods or processed meals, it can be difficult to enjoy your food at first, but the more you practice, the more your taste buds will adapt and learn to love these nutritious, whole foods.
While you’re eating, try to eliminate all distractions, including TV and computers, so you can focus on your food. Ideally, you should spend at least 20 minutes on each meal or snack without any distractions (you can even start by setting a timer). If eating in silence is too challenging for you at first, it’s fine to include pleasant conversations with friends and family while you’re eating.
Pay Attention to Your Hunger and Fullness Cues
The goal of mindful eating is to pay attention to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. To do this, you must slow down, focus solely on the act of eating, and eliminate distractions like watching TV or reading a book while you eat. As with any practice, it takes time to become proficient at it. Think of it like going to the gym — the more you do it, the stronger your mental muscles become.
Many people use food as a source of comfort, to fill emotional voids, or even just out of habit. Eating on autopilot can lead to overeating, and it’s often hard to stop eating once you’re started because the brain is conditioned to feel hungry. This can create a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
Mindful eating encourages you to savor your food, which helps you feel more satisfied with smaller portions. It also helps you identify if you are eating out of true hunger or for other reasons. Emotional hunger or hunger from boredom, stress, or anger are common imitators of true hunger. By practicing mindfulness, you can better differentiate between these types of hunger and find ways to satisfy them other than by eating (Hannah, 2020).
The act of tasting your food and chewing it thoroughly can help you learn how much food you actually need to be satiated. You’ll also get to know the physical sensations of hunger and fullness, which are different for everyone. Hunger may feel like a grumbling stomach, while fullness may be characterized by a feeling of satiety or a sense that your belly is getting tighter.
When you start practicing mindful eating, don’t expect to be perfect. Your mind will wander at times, but the key is to bring it back as soon as you notice it. Over time, this will train your mind to stay focused on the experience of eating. Think of it as lifting weights at the gym — the more you do it, you’ll strengthen your mental muscles and gain control over your eating habits.
Be Patient with Yourself
Practicing mindful eating requires commitment and patience. Like any other skill, it takes time to master. It’s important to be kind to yourself throughout the process of learning how to eat mindfully. Mindful eating can take weeks, months, or even years before it becomes a natural part of your routine.
As you work on cultivating mindful eating habits, you may find that your thoughts often wander away from the food you’re eating. It’s okay, but when you notice your mind wandering, gently shepherd it back to your food. The more you practice, the easier it will become. Think of it as a mental muscle you’re working to strengthen. Just as we don’t go to the gym once and expect to be Superman, we need to give ourselves time and practice.
Another important aspect of mindful eating is to eat in a way that supports your wellness goals. Having a healthy relationship with food is not just about how much you eat, but also about what you eat and how you feel after each meal or snack. This can be hard to accomplish, especially for those who have been engaging in self-criticism or shame around food or body size.
It’s helpful to keep a food journal to help you identify patterns that may help or hinder your wellness goals. For example, you might notice that certain foods make you feel sluggish or bloated, which can be a good indicator of whether you’re hungry or not. Or you might find that you’re eating more or less than the recommended amount of calories. Keeping a food journal can help you become more aware of the impact that your diet has on your physical health and emotional well-being.
Eating mindfully can be a fun and rewarding experience. Try incorporating one of the six mindful eating practices described above into your next meal or snack, and see how it changes your experience. If you’re interested in learning more about developing a healthier relationship with food, contact your Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program Manager, Patient Centered Care Coordinator or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.