Mindful eating encourages you to be kind to yourself and to your body by tuning in to your genuine experience and feelings when eating. This then helps you to make choices about food and your eating experience that are helpful and healthful. It also means slowing down, which can lead to health benefits like increased nutrient absorption and decreased calorie intake.
To eat mindfully—grounded in the present moment—is to live fully with food and the act of eating. We drop our busy thoughts, our fears, our judgments and our self-talk and simply become aware of the food, bite by bite. We eat just to enjoy the experience and to get in touch with our senses.
The main function of eating is to give our body energy and nourishment. And yet, most of us use food for many other reasons that do not even relate to nutrition. Instead of seeing ourselves in control of eating, we mindlessly give away our power. Many of us mindlessly eat because we are stressed, bored, or trying to fill some sort of void. Sound familiar?
ARE YOU REALLY HUNGRY?
To learn to eat mindfully, it’s important to know when you are really hungry, or if you’re experiencing some other feeling. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to explore your hunger:
- The next time you’re hungry, check the time and drink a glass of water. Then wait 15-20 minutes.
- If you’re still hungry after 15-20 minutes, eat a mindful nutritious snack. Hunger can be a healthy cue telling your body that an energy source is needed.
- If you aren’t hungry after waiting, maybe you were feeling thirsty, bored, lonely or sad.
- When you feel hunger are there any other feelings attached to it?
- Before you eat something, ask yourself, will I feel satisfied after I eat, or will I want more no matter what I eat?
Remember, hunger is only a feeling that you are experiencing in the moment. It is not who you are. In its true form it is a signal telling your body that you need energy. If there are other emotions attached to your hunger, or if you are still unsatisfied no matter what you eat, there may be something else going on besides your body just needing energy.
CELEBRATE YOUR SENSES
A simple way to start to be mindful when you eat is to pay attention to your senses. Everything we do in life is experienced though our 5 senses. When you eat, pay attention to:
Sights: colors, textures, presentation of the foods, the table setting, etc.
Sounds: the sound of chewing, swallowing, sipping, the clink of your glass, the touch of your silverware on the plate, etc.
Smells: all the aromas of the foods and how they mix together.
Taste: the flavors of each food on your plate, the salty, sweet, sour, spicy, bitter components. How they taste at first bite and after chewing.
Touch: the textures and temperatures of the foods as you put them in your mouth.
Experience these senses with each bite of food. When you notice your mind wandering, come back to your next bite and continue practicing. Be gentle, no judgements. Mindful eating is a skill that takes practice and time to master. Start with these small steps to slowly change your eating over time.
Mindful eating helps us balance our lives—body, mind and spirit. Mindless eating may be an indication that we have an imbalance in our lives, or it could just make us feel overstuffed and heavy. When we eat mindlessly, without intention, we tend to make poor food choices.
When we eat with mindfulness we can actually feel more satisfied with less food! This mindfulness can help us make choices that will nourish our body, stimulate our senses, and provide appreciation of the relationship of food to our body, mind and spirit.
Lea Basch is a registered dietitian and has been in the nutrition industry for over 30 years, most of which she spent at Longmont United Hospital in Boulder, Colorado, where she was one of the founders of the facility’s nutrition program. Longmont’s Planetree philosophy of caring for the body, mind and spirit of patients is very much in line with Lea’s interest in both traditional and alternative therapies for treating chronic illnesses. Gluten-intolerant herself, Lea now focuses much of her time on the latest research and issues relating to gluten-free diets and other food intolerances. She is a diabetes educator and is a Registered Dietitian with the American Dietetic Association. Lea’s lifelong passion has been combining the science of nutrition with the heart that it takes to change lifelong habits.
Lea received her BS and MS in Nutrition and Dietetics at Florida International University and BA in Education at University of Florida. Ask Lea your nutrition questions at DearLea@tastefulpantry.com