If you are asked about what you had in lunch yesterday, you wouldn’t remember all the details. Most times we eat while performing another side activity such as watching TV, reading, working, driving, or scrolling down on mobile devices. These side activities prevent us from being aware of our eating habits. Mindful eating blocks this cycle of mindless eating and provides you with an opportunity to monitor your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as you eat food. Remember how you had that packet of chips next to your laptop and while you were checking your emails, it was gone before you knew it. Distracted eating tends to take away the pleasure of food and also adds to your weight.
Mindful Eating: Benefits & Tips
Eating slowly, intentionally, and mindfully is a part of healthy food culture, and a growing body of research shows the benefits of mindful eating. A study conducted on more than 1400 mindful eaters showed that these individuals have a body weight close to recommended, fewer symptoms of eating disorders, and a greater sense of well-being.
This article aims to provide benefits of mindful eating and certain suggestions on how to practice mindfulness to reap all those benefits.
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is a term rooted in Buddhist philosophy. It means to focus on the present moment while acknowledging the physical and emotional feelings. The same rules apply to mindful eating.
Mindful eating is a form of meditation that involves a set of points of given below.
- Slow eating
- Recognize your cues for hunger
- Pay attention to satiety
- Distinguish between hunger and non-hunger triggers for food.
- Make decisions on what food to eat and in what quantity.
- Choose nutritious and healthy foods
- Pay close attention to the color, smell, texture, and taste of food, and see the emotional effects of food.
- Do not participate in other activities while you eat
- Be aware of the consequences of mindless eating
- Appreciate the food
Some elements of mindful eating seem to hearken back to the ideas of Horace Fletcher, an early 20th century food faddist who believed chewing food thoroughly would solve many different kinds of health problems.
What does mindful eating teach?
I am sure you can remember those times when you’d stuff junk food without realizing that you should have stopped eating a few minutes ago. This attitude makes youoverweight and unhealthy, addicted to snacks and fried and fatty food, and makes you mindlessly overeat.
This isn’t a healthy way of eating. What you eat is a big part of it, but just as big a part is how you eat — emotionally and mindlessly. These bad eating habits built up over time, after years of eating to socialize, to relieve stress, to make yourself feel better, to satisfy cravings.
When you finally realize how bad things have gone and how hard it is to change, simply because eating is filling so many needs, and because you eat mostly without thinking.
The biggest change you can make: You learn to pay attention. You start paying attention to what you eat, the textures and flavors, how it made you feel during and after eating. I pay attention to the eating urges, to the emotions that triggered the eating.
The changes come slowly, but paying attention turns out to be the key habit change. Once you make this change, other changes finally start happening, after years of trying.
There is a growing field of people adopting the approach and writing about it (I’d recommend Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung), and a growing body of research showing the benefits (more in the next section).
There are a variety of approaches to mindful eating, some rooted in Zen and other forms of Buddhism, others tied to yoga.
Simply put, my approach to mindful eating is learning to pay attention. Instead of eating mindlessly, putting food into your mouth almost unconsciously, not really tasting the food you’re eating … you notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
Here are a few things mindful eating teaches you:
- Why you feel like eating, and what emotions or needs might be triggering the eating.
- What you’re eating, and whether it is healthy or not.
- The look, smell, taste, feel of the food you’re eating.
- How it makes you feel as you taste it, as you digest it, and throughout the day.
- How full (or sated) you are before, during and after eating.
- Your emotions during and after eating.
- Where the food came from, who might have grown it, how much it might have suffered before it was killed, whether it was grown organically, how much it was processed, how much it was fried or overcooked, etc.
- A small yet growing body of research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and maybe steer some people away from processed food and other less-healthful choices.
Benefits of mindful eating
Mindful eating is a skill, a form of meditation really, that you don’t just acquire overnight. It takes practice, and there will be times when you forget to eat mindfully, and there will be starts and stops. But with practice and attention, you can become very good at this. Research shows that mindful eating has helped treat many conditions, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and various food-related behaviors. Mentioned below are some benefits of mindful eating.
1. Mindful eating prevents over-eating
Digestion consists of a complex mind-gut connection where several hormones serve as signals between gut and the nervous system. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness. That means, if you eat faster, you will still be eating after you are full. Satiety will take place after 20 minutes, and by that time you’d have already overeaten.
If you are driving, working, or performing other activity, eating during that time will slow down the digestion just like it happens in the case of fight or flight responses. If your gut fails to digest well, you may be missing out on impotent nutrients that although present in the food but fail to get absorbed.
Mindful eating prevents this over-eating habit. It restores your attention towards food and make you eat slowly.
2. Mindful eatingtakes care of your cravings
Think of those times when you were craving for food. That craving didn’t take you to eat broccoli or another healthy food. You ended up having fast food or chocolates and ice creams. Cravings usually take you over board on eating, and add to those extra pounds or love handles.
Food cravings are either related to hunger or they have deep connections with other things such as stress. Mindful eating helps you handle your cravings in a better way. If you know where these cravings come from, what triggers them, and how to resolve them, you can eat healthily.
Without craving for an unhealthy food, you can better care for your nutritional needs. Moreover, once you know the triggers, you have the freedom to control those triggers and respond better.
3. Mindful eating makes you enjoy your food
Rapid transformations in technology and ever increasing economic pressure has made our lives fast. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are mostly accompanied by driving, typing, studying, using mobile phones and watching TV. Amid these distractions, we forget to taste our foods.
Eating usually consists of taking food down the throat without caring for it’s color, aroma, texture, and taste. Mindful eating helps you concentrate better on food, therefore, you savor each bite.
4. Mindful eating helps you opt for healthy choices
We are usually unaware of the caloric value of junk food we eat with distractions. You fail to realize when does the intake of a chocolate bar increases from one to four.
Being mindful of your eating habits and patters puts you in a position where you are more likely to choose healthy meals.
5. Mindful eating helps maintain a healthy weight
How does food add to your weight? Either it’s because of binge eating, or you frequently eat small quantities of high-caloric food. From the moment you buy food to the time of its consumption, everything counts in mindful eating. Although dieting and exercise are often given as best options to reduce weight, mindful eating is essential to maintaining it.
Ideal mindful-eating food list includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.
6. Mindful eating helps you in managing stress
Numerous studies show that mindfulness promotes positive attitude, healthy weight, and less stress. We often say there are two primary ways to reach obesity: eat your way there, and stress your way there. Emotional eating is a huge issue in our society. When we resort to food – or avoid food – to cope with emotions, we have already lost our ability to handle stress in a healthy way. You begin to sort through the emotional issues you have around food and eating. This takes a bit longer, but it’s important
Related article: 13 Ways Stress Affects Your Health (P.S. 10 Tips to Manage Stress)
Tips to practice mindful eating
Begin with your shopping list.
Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you’re shopping. Fill most of your cart in the produce section and avoid the center aisles—which are heavy with processed foods—and the chips and candy at the check-out counter.
Come to the table with an appetite— but not when ravenously hungry.
If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.
Start with a small portion.
It may be helpful to limit the size of your plate to nine inches or less.
Appreciate your food.
Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you’re enjoying it with.
Bring all your senses to the meal.
When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to color, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings. Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your phone. Ask yourself why you’re eating. Are you actually hungry? Is it healthy?
Take small bites.
It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.
Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.
If you follow the advice above, you won’t bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with your tablemates. Eat more slowly and don’t rush your meals. Stop eating when you’re full.
A starter kit for mindful eating
Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, eating one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. Here are some tips (and tricks) that may help you get started:
- Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
- Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.
- Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
- Take small bites and chew well.
- Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.