A simple change in your food habits could help you avoid overeating and binge eating, and lose those extra pounds, control your blood sugar if you have diabetes mellitus, and restrict your eating to only what your body requires.
It is mindful eating or eating mindfully, a technique to bring greater awareness to your eating. It is eating based on the principles of mindfulness.
Being mindful means keeping our mind around where our body is. Let us explore it a little.
What Is Mindful Eating
A meaningful way to define mindful eating is:
Mindful eating is paying full attention to the process of eating, from moment to moment, with curiosity and non-judgment. Its purpose is to engage with food via all five senses and appreciate its journey from the farm to the body.
Mindful eating isn’t a new, present-day practice. Its roots lie in the ancient Buddhist and Zen traditions.
Mindfulness in eating is about engaging with the process, and not about working towards the result. A mindful eater focuses on appreciating the food and eating it, often without worrying if it is simple food or a gourmet meal.
As you would know, our thoughts often carry us to somewhere else than where we are. While at the office table, our mind is at the ping-pong table; at the ping-pong table, our mind is at the dinner table; and at the dinner table, our mind is at the office table. We could solve this tiresome tendency of mind-wandering with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the surroundings where we are at the moment. It trains us to notice when our mind wanders, and to bring it back to the now.
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as:
…paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. — Full Catastrophe Living.
Mindfulness while eating can help you enjoy a meal fully while eating with moderation. Studies suggest mindfulness-based habits can improve the way we eat.In essence, mindful eating is eating with attention and intention. You note what you eat, and savor when you eat. Click To Tweet
Why Eat Mindfully: Benefits of Mindful Eating
Research has found mindful eating can improve depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and weight management. Mindful eating is also found effective in controlling some type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- Many of us would admit to grabbing some food while watching movies or when upset. Mindful eating teaches us the skills of letting go of established unhelpful patterns of eating because of stress or habit. Mindful eating can help us get better control of binge eating and comfort eating.
- Eating more of any food reduces its tastefulness, as we know. No matter how much we like hummus and falafel, we cannot have it three times a day, seven days a week. Mindful eating helps us learn to differentiate between the hunger for food and the desire for food. It makes us enjoy our meals, and we tend to not overeat. It helps us appreciate the simple premise of eating, that is, to satisfy our hunger.
- Eating with stress on our mind and body, as happens in multitasking, can make us feel gloomy and bloated afterward. With the discipline of mindfulness to our eating, we bring positive changes in the areas of life outside our eating. Eating with a mindful behavior can make us feel good about our bodies and ourselves later on.
- Mindful eating can help in weight management, as we discuss next.
Weight Loss And Mindful Eating
Though it is not dieting of any kind, or restricting or allowing certain foods, or counting the calories or amount of food, mindful eating helps people get into better shape and size.
And it happens without causing increased stress because its goal is not about losing or gaining weight, or getting into a certain shape or size.
- While mindfulness eating is not specifically anything like a weight loss program, still many people experience a loss in their weight in about eight to ten weeks.
- It could be explained by the fact that the mindful eaters change their relationship with food and behave in a positively different way while eating.
- For example, mindful eaters tend to eat less because they are early to become aware of the fullness of their stomachs and stop eating at that point. Therefore, they rarely overeat.
- Even when a mindful eater sees an enticing food, and takes to eating, they eat only until it satisfies their hunger, not a morsel more.
- Researchers found in a 2015 study, most of the people who approached their food with mindfulness lost a significant amount of weight, though they could not establish a direct relationship between the two.
How To Eat Mindfully: 20 Finest Tips To Practice Mindful Eating
Here are a 6 tips to help you practice mindful eating:
1. Pay Attention While Eating
You’re great at multitasking. Your modern lifestyle has made you a deft juggler at doing many things at the same time. And the best time you do this when you’re eating.
You are bad at paying attention to your food. You eat while you watch movies and shows. You eat while you use your phone for news, messages, emails, talking, and playing games. In some probability, you don’t even realize if it’s food or paper that you’re chewing.
Even when you get served a fine meal, your best attention to it is before you pick up the spoon, when you take a picture. Soon after, your interest veers off to sharing that pic with your friends and followers.
Stop doing that. Switch off your screen when you sit down to eat. And savor the food with all your senses. See its details, smell its aroma, and appreciate those. Listen closely as you chew it and taste it without any hurry.
When you eat with mindfulness, you also find it easier to know when your body telling you it’s full, and you need to stop.
2. Do Not Rush Through Eating
You are eating your food, not making a dash-or-die run through a windstorm.
- Do you always need to hurry when you are eating?
- How many minutes does a rushed meal save you?
- Did you know your stomach takes 20 minutes to digest your food?
Eating is a process that needs your time. But when you rush the process, you fail to realize if you have eaten beyond what your body would have wanted you to. Your hurrying only aims at finishing the food on the plate, without letting you know if you actually need it or not.
Eat slow. The slow-eating movement that is a rage all over the world is an ideal way to practice mindful eating. When you eat your food slowly, you get to savor it and can tell when to pause or stop.
Another great tip is this: hara hachi bu. It is a Japanese term meaning:
Eat till you are 80% full.
The tradition originated in Okinawa, an island city in Japan. Okinawa is a blue-zone, places where people have extraordinary long and healthy lives.
This idea keeps the Okinawans alert to when their stomachs are about slightly full. It helps them control their eating habits and prevents them from overeating.
Here’s a brilliant book on living and eating like the healthiest people on earth by the New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner: The Blue Zones Solution.
3. Do Not Skip Any Major Meal
Your three major meals are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When you skip one of these meals, it becomes quite an uphill challenge to make the right food choices at the next mealtime.
With a skipped meal, whenever you feel hungry next, you grab anything that presents itself for a bite. It could be, and mostly is, unhealthy food. You stop at a vending machine to pick up something junk or visit the nearest eatery for a bite of some snack food.
To prevent this, you need to give your body the discipline of timed meals. And to do that, it goes best to plan all your meal times ahead in the day. For a week, sit down with your planner in the morning and fix your meals for the day along with the times.
Follow this for a few weeks until you get bored or feel there’s a need for change. Go back to your planner and make changes as you feel the best. Repeat.
Once you create a plan, follow it through with dedication and discipline.
4. Always Chew Your Food Well
Is there a magic number to guide you in to how many times you must chew your food?
It’s 32, as most people say. That number equals the number of teeth an adult human has.
However, thirty-two may not be an always-on number. For more chewy things, your teeth may need to grind it 40 times, while for softer things, it could take around 20. Whatever, to be fair, it is a useful number to guide you on how many times should you chew any morsel.
As you’d know, digestion begins in the mouth. It starts when we chew the food. A good chewing practice mashes and liquefies the food, so the stomach has to do less work when it reaches there.
Chewing also mixes the food with the digestive enzymes present in the saliva. And saliva contains the enzyme ptyalin, which breaks down starch into simpler sugars. Thus, proper chewing can digest up to 30% of the starch in our food.
Chewing well also reduces your chances of choking on the food. When you chew, you also tend to eat less.
And, of course, good chewing helps you slow down your eating speed and lets you taste your food fully.
So, masticate (or chew) your food well.
5. Avoid Overeating At All Times
Why do we overeat?
The primary goal and reason for eating, we often forget, is to satisfy hunger and to keep the body healthy. And so, because we forget that the basic reason, we often end up eating way more than our bodies need.
For most practical purposes, we overeat because:
- we fail to note our body’s signals that we’re full
- we’re afraid we might not get to eat a splendid meal in a long time
- we have food left on our plate or table that we feel we must finish
- we’ve paid for unlimited servings, so why not stuff as much as we can
- we’re encouraged to overeat to show our appreciation for the food
We live in a culture that revolves around food and a world that produces more food than we could ever eat. It leads to most of us eating mindlessly, that is, eating with our minds roaming elsewhere.
We rarely realize there is only a thin line between eating enough and overeating. The reason is mostly the same attitude of mindlessness we carry to your eating tables.
You keep on eating for reasons you’re not aware of most of the time. How often do you realize you’ve eaten to finish the food rather than to fill your hunger?
But if you’re mindful, it becomes easy to sense the point when you are no more hungry and can walk away from your plate.
While eating, make it a goal to eat till you’re satiated. Make this decision a little before your food arrives. Otherwise, once the food sits before you, your unconscious intention is to clean off the plate.
Eat for nourishing yourself. Learn to set a limit of food you’ll eat and watch yourself when eating.
A good practice is to use smaller portions at one go, and make yourself move to get another helping. If possible, ask to limit the serving at your table as you eat.
6. Connect Deep With Your Food
Do not start eating the moment you reach your plate. Do not pounce on the food as soon as you get to it. To sound rude, that’s what animals do. They don’t know when or where the next food is coming through, but you know you have plentiful.
So, you need not jump at your food as if the next one is uncertain to come by.
Instead, think about the food’s journey from the field to your plate. Let your mind flip through the images of people who made it possible to get you fed today. Take a moment to thank them all. This will help you connect with your food in a more meaningful way.
In some ways, connecting with your food and being grateful for it is the most crucial part of mindful eating.
When you reflect on the entire process that made it possible for you to eat today, you feel connected to the web of life. You no more see your food as something that came off a supermarket shelf. Instead, you see the thousands of hands that worked for it.
This realization can be a wake-up call to be more appreciative and respectful of your food from now on.The ground rule of mindful eating is to eat for the sake of eating, with acceptance, patience, curiosity, and non-judgment. Click To Tweet
7. Respect The Food
Honor your meal and express gratitude before you start eating. Thank the persons (farmer, transporter, cook) who made your meal possible. Have some water before your first bite; it signals your stomach to get ready to receive food.
8. Do Not Talk Shop
Do not talk or think about work or news or problems. Do not take your fights and arguments to the dining table. Do not feed yourself anger and resentment while eating your food.
9. Eat Silently, Without Talking
Eat in silence while savoring your food. If you must talk, then keep your conversations around nutrition and food. Eat in peace, without any diversions, like television, laptop, or mobile.
10. Take Moderate Servings
Let each serving be modest. Moderation is of the essence when it comes to mindful eating. Smaller portions make you eat less and waste less, as you’re not ‘nudged’ by a larger serving to eat till the last bite.
11. Eat Slow, Chew Well
Eat slow. Slowing down our eating process allows your brains to catch up with your body, clearly reading the signals if it’s full. Eat with your whole consciousness. Take brief breaks between a few bites. And ask yourself intermittently if you’re feeling satiated.
12. Address Your Anxiety Issues
Comfort foods are for comforting your unhappy feelings – as sadness, loneliness, boredom, anger, stress, frustration. Address them first. Solve them instead of soothing yourself out of those unpleasant feelings through food.
13. Avoid Places That Lure Into Eating
Stay sharp of the situations and places that make you eat automatically. You might be in the habit of eating meals while watching movies, or munching down things while catching on a television show. These are forms of mindless eating. Avoid them like the plague.
14. Do Not Eat From The Box
Do not eat your food out of the pack or pot it came in. Sit down at the table, pour or serve it on a bowl or plate, then eat. Plan ahead when and what you will eat – it reduces stress and allows for mindful eating. Planning ahead also makes you more likely to eat only the type and amount your body needs.
15. Have A Mindful Kitchen
Have a mindful kitchen. Keep all your food ingredients arranged neatly. Organize your kitchen in such a way that it doesn’t tax your brain to find out where is a certain thing when you need it. Stay stocked on healthy foods more than snack-type foods.
16. Eat A Variety of Foods
Eat a variety of nutritionally healthy foods. When you eat the food of different types, colors, texture, or taste, you find it easier to pay attention to them. A colorful salad along with cooked food provides two different mindful experiences.
17. Follow The Sit-Slow-Savor Rule
The 3 S’s of mindful eating are sit down, slow down, and savor down. However, it needs conscious practice to put it all together with every meal. Sitting down is easy. Slowing down can be helped with a timer or alarm clock. Set the timer to a few minutes more each day. And eat slowly to fill up the whole of the new time. Savoring down is the opposite of shoveling down.
18. Keep Food Away From Sight
Keep food away and out of your sight. This is more needed for ready-to-eat foods. Store these out of sight, at the back of the refrigerator, or on the topmost shelf in your kitchen cabinet. Do not buy ready-made juices. They hold in unhealthy amounts of sugar but are easy to fool you into thinking you’re having wholesome food.
19. Buy And Store Healthful Foods
Stock up on healthy foods. Go for grocery shopping with a food-list you had made mindfully over some days. Eat from restaurants that make wholesome food, not fast-food.
20. Cook Novel Types
Learn to cook different and novel types of food. For example, when you wish to learn to make hummus or hash, you take yourself through a series of novel experiences – watching or reading the recipes, shopping the ingredients, making the food, and tasting it, and then eating it. It expands your mindful eating practice into a celebration and adventure.
Quotes On Mindful Eating
To further inspire you into mindful eating, take a look at some amazing quotes on conscious eating:
Mindful eating replaces self-criticism with self-nurturing. It replaces shame with respect for your own inner wisdom. – Jan Chozen Bays
How we do food is how we do life. Every meal is a metaphor for how you show up in the world. Are you present? Are you complaining? Are you multitasking? Add love, celebration, time, communion, and gratitude to every meal and make every meal the best meal ever. – Marc David & Emily Rosen
Refrain from discussing subjects that can destroy your awareness of the people around you and the food. If someone is thinking about something other than the good food on the table, such as his difficulties in the office or with friends, it means he is losing the present moment and the food. You can help by returning his attention to the meal. ― Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Eat
Emotional eating is an attempt to deal with a tough problem, feeling, or situation we don’t otherwise know how to deal with, and often don’t even know that we have without some kind of symptom to remind us. When we strip away the judgement of our emotional eating, and stop calling it a disease, a defect, a problem in and of itself; we can finally see it for what it is: An alert that something in our life needs our attention. Something completely unrelated to food or our weight. Be grateful for the reminder. – Isabel Foxen Duke
At the heart of every eating disorder, whether it is compulsive eating, bulimia or anorexia, there is a cry from the deepest part of our souls that must be heard. It is a cry to awaken, to embrace our whole selves. It is a cry to deepen our understanding of who we really are. It is a longing to know ourselves in mind, body and spirit. – Normandi & Roark
When practiced to its fullest, mindful eating turns a simple meal into a spiritual experience, giving us a deep appreciation of all that went into the meal’s creation as well a deep understanding of the relationship between the food on our table, our own health, and our planet’s health. – Thich Nhat Hanh, Savor
Practice mindful eating. Eating food is a somatic experience. It gives rise to all kinds of sensory experiences and sensations. When we are not fully present when we eat and when we eat too fast, we tune out this sensory experience and as a result, we do not experience our food fully. We take it for granted. We don’t extract the full richness out of it. We can’t tell how our bodies respond to certain foods. – Teal Swan
Mindful eating means eating with attention and intention. The attention is towards the experience of eating with full presence, while the intention is towards savoring the experience with all the senses. The ground rule of mindful eating is eating for the sake of eating, with acceptance, patience, curiosity, and non-judgment.
Mindfulness in eating needs daily practice. But it doesn’t mean you have to eat every meal with mindfulness from tomorrow.
The idea is to play a graceful host to mindfulness into your daily life — as mindfully walking, mindfully meditating, and mindfully eating.
As you invite mindfulness into your day in many ways, you’ll find its positive effects spreading to various parts of your life. You start noticing how you pause now before reaching out for food and ask yourself if you’re physically hungry or really at emotional unease.
Once a mindful eater finds out they’re about to indulge in emotional eating, they take steps to settle those issues first. They listen to and identify their emotions, not gloss over with comfort food.
Finally, please take a look at this virally loved post: Guide To Start Mindfulness In 7 Steps.
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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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