Mindful eating is one of the most powerful lifestyle modifications when it comes to weight loss. More often than not you will tend to find yourself munching on something without even giving a second thought to it.
Some of us do this while studying, while others do it while watching their favorite television show or movie, and some even do it while cooking food!
Can you remember all the snacks you have consumed today? I am pretty sure you can’t recall all of them. This is because of our habit of mindless eating that we do while performing other tasks. When we do not register what we are eating, it leads to the consumption of excess food. This, in turn, may lead to obesity.
What is mindful eating?
The term mindful eating is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. As you would already know, Buddhism teaches its followers to meditate. Mindfulness is a method of meditation that helps a person figure out their emotions and physical sensations. It is also beneficial in helping the person cope with these emotions and sensations.
Mindful eating uses the concept of mindfulness. This is about being fully aware of what you are eating, and if it’s actually due to hunger or not.
Benefits of mindful eating?
Even though the concept of meditation and mindful eating has been around for millenniums, recently it has gathered attention again. This is because of the positive effects it had on people who spread the word about it.
It may seem challenging to practice mindful eating when you sit for a meal and feel extremely hungry, but the benefits are worth it.
1. Mindful eating helps to avoid eating in excess.
When I joined my first job as a hospital intern, I found myself gaining excess amounts of weight. This was because I would snack on something while waiting for a patient’s reports. I wasn’t ever hungry; it was more of a boredom snack.
Once I started practicing mindfulness, I would always think about whether I was actually hungry or not. Most of the food we eat is NOT because of hunger. It is actually mindless snacking to kill boredom, time or just a hobby like buying popcorns for a movie.
All this adds to excess weight as the body does not require the food that we are eating. It is all stored as fat.
2. Mindful eating lets you enjoy your food
The more we rush our food, the more we tend to overeat and the lesser satisfied we feel. Why is that so? It’s because when you rush through your meal, you don’t get to taste it properly. The slower you eat your food, the more you can savor the taste. This also has the benefit of making your brain feel that you have been fed well. The slower you eat, the more fuller your body feels.
3. Mindful eating decreases stress
Studies have shown that mindful eating decreases the levels of stress hormones in the body. When you take time to slow down and savor your meals, apparently you also beat stress! Enjoying your meals slowly as a part of mindful eating makes a person feel happier and content.
4. Mindful eating reduces emotional and external eating
There are two kinds of unhealthy eating behaviors often studied in obese individuals. There emotional and external eating.
Emotional eating is when a person eats in response to emotions such as anger, grief, and happiness. This results in individuals eating when they feel certain emotions. When practicing mindful eating, you think if you are actually hungry before you eat. This leads to decreased calorie consumption.
External eating is when a person smells or sees food and immediately wants to eat. Mindful eating puts a stop to this habit by focusing on body cues. If the body is showing signs of hunger, for example, stomach grumbling or low energy, only then food is consumed.
How can I practice mindful eating?
Mindful eating involves being aware of what you are eating and your body’s reaction to hunger and food.
You can incorporate the following steps to follow mindful eating.
1. Eat only when you feel hungry
This is extremely important as most of us end up snacking more out of habit, rather than hunger.
Whether you are at a social gathering or the office, avoid taking food unless hungry.
Listen to the cues your body gives when it’s hungry to decide your next meals. A rumbling stomach or low energy levels can be cues you can easily pick on.
Eating out of boredom is one of the biggest menaces when it comes to unhealthy eating as it increases weight.
2. Stop eating when you feel full
Most of us tend to overeat when having meals we like. Many times its a result of a variety of food available especially during buffets or a night out.
However, this is mindless eating as you are ignoring your body signals that it is full. When you consume excess calories, you tend you gain weight and which can lead to long-term problems and obesity.
Picking what you really want to eat and only taking smaller portions of that will help you focus more on the flavors and also help you stop when you feel full.
3. Begin eating with your non-dominant hand
One of the toughest things to do is getting in the habit of doing something healthy. It might take you and your body some time to adjust to eating mindfully, and your nondominant hand can help you get ahead.
When performing any task with our non-dominant hand, we tend to pay more attention to it. Similarly, eating with our non-dominant hand for the first few weeks can get us in the habit of concentrating on the task more.
4. Leave your phone aside
Nowadays, it’s difficult to put your cellphone done for even one minute. While scrolling through social media, browsing through the internet, and chatting with your crush may feel better than eating, it is not.
Try and avoid all distractions at meal times. Focus entirely on the food. If you are distracted while eating, mindfulness cannot be practiced. Once the food has your complete focus, you will eat less and at the same time, enjoy it more.
5. Eat slowly
Try savoring the taste of each bite. Chew slowly; it helps improve the taste of your meal and would also make you feel fuller. There is a center called the satiety center in the hypothalamus of the brain. This helps regulate hunger. The slower you eat, and the more you chew, the fuller it makes you feel.
Not only that, but the benefits of slow eating also include better hydration, better digestion, better weight management, faster weight loss, and greater satisfaction with our meals.
Eating slowly is a practice all of us should incorporate in our lives as it has numerous benefits to our overall health.
6. Chew at least 20 times
Chewing is one of the easiest ways to develop a habit of eating mindfully, and it will also help you stay healthy.
Chewing your food at least 20-25 times will not only help you feel like you are eating more and get filled quicker, but will also help with your overall metabolism. This will ensure that your body receives all the nutrition from your food and not cause indigestion.
7. Don’t judge the food; judge how you eat the food.
When eating mindfully, one of the first things to keep in your mind is to not label the food as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Food is a source of energy and nourishment, and it doesn’t have to be good all the time.
Many a time we have our meal, find that it wasn’t very ‘good’ and then to go through our fridge to see something else to munch on. This results in overeating and taking in way too many calories during a single meal.
When we think of our food as ‘good,’ we often tend to overeat it as we enjoy it so much but regret our actions later.
Therefore, indulging in our meals without labeling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ helps us eat in moderation and respect whatever we are putting in our body rather than experience feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety.
8. Engage all your senses
Try breathing in and taking the smell of the food. Look at what is on your plate and make small bites. Try appreciating all the different tastes and herbs and spices used in the food.
Engaging the senses makes the dining experience better, and also makes the meal more enjoyable. Pay attention to what emotions your body triggers after eating.
When you set high expectations for your food, you will be disappointed more often than not. Feeling content with what you have is the way to go when eating mindfully.
9. Do not eat according to your emotions
Do not eat when you are feeling sad, angry or bored. Only eat when your body gives you signs that it is feeling hungry. Binge eating after a breakup is one of the biggest causes of short-term weight spike.
Engage in other constructive activities whenever you feel sad, angry, or bored, and leave eating out of it.
10. Avoid ‘comfort’ foods
Comfort food is normally poor in nutrients and high in calories. Also, comfort food is commonly associated with binge eating. The more you focus on the nutritional value of your food, the more mentally satisfied you’ll feel.
Avoiding comfort food will also make you feel happier and healthier all day as your body will get more nutritious fuel to burn and keep you active.
11. Eat in the company of others
Try eating with people rather than alone, and at fixed times. While many recommend that food should be enjoyed in silence, it leads us to watch TV or brown through our phone and take our mind off eating.
Therefore, it is beneficial to eat in a company as you can enjoy your food more with a good conversation. Enjoying food with family or friends will help you focus on your senses more than watching TV or browsing through the internet.
12. Take your food out in plates or bowls.
One of the biggest mistakes we all make is to avoid doing the dishes and eat our food directly from the containers.
Using plates and bowls to take out food and eat them can have a massive impact on our portion size, as we can clearly see the quantity of the food once it’s on a plate we are familiar with.
This can help us reduce the portion size if it is too much.
13. Start your meal with small portions
Even if you are feeling starving, try taking smaller portions of the food. Also using a 9-inch plate helps. It makes smaller portions look bigger and gives mental satisfaction of eating a big meal.
14. Put your fork/spoon down after each bite
Preparing another bite while chewing one is one of the worse habits that we have. This forces us to hurry and swallow what’s already in our mouth and take the next bite.
Putting your fork down after each bite helps you focus on what’s already in your mouth. Picking your fork up and preparing the next bite only after you are done with the last one will quickly get you closer to your goal of mindful eating.
I am used to snacking while I work, how do I avoid it?
It is not just you; most of us tend to have a snack or sip on tea and coffee while working. It is better to try having coffee instead of snacks while working to incorporate mindful eating.
If you are sipping on tea or coffee while working, try to have the first few sips when free from work. Give your full attention to these sips. This will help your mind to get the full effect of the beverage before you start working again.