Mindfulness — an elusive concept for some — has made its way into the vernacular of the wellness industry, even becoming akin to a “buzzword” in the field. I’m here to tell you that it’s much easier to talk about mindfulness than it is to practice it, especially when it comes to eating. In our day to day lives, we find ourselves rushing: rushing out the front door in the morning, rushing to a meeting at lunchtime, rushing to pick up the kids, through the drive-through, and home to do chores.
Mindfulness, and especially mindful eating is about taking in the now and being present in the moment. It’s about recognizing that each moment counts, that being present in your body is necessary to fully experience life, and then doing it — being present, being in the now. That’s hard to do when you’re eating in the car, in front of the TV, or at your desk. Distracted eating is not only detrimental to your digestive process, it’s detrimental to your health and wellbeing.
Check out this list of tips for those of us who are beginners in the world of mindful eating. Try one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed, and don’t forget to breath!
Mindful Eating for Beginners
1. Put Your Phone Down
Mealtime is not text time, web-surfing time, g-chat, or a time for you to catch up on your phone calls. Put your phone down and focus on your food. This might be the hardest task on this list if you’re eating alone (especially in public), but it doesn’t hurt to try it a few times. You might be surprised at how tempting it is to pick up the phone in the silence. Try to resist and turn your attention to your food. Experience the aroma coming off the plate. Notice how many times you’re chewing each bite and try to increase that number. You might realize that you’ve been eating your food without even noticing the flavor, the texture, and how full you become as you take each bite.
When you engage in activities other than the task at hand during mealtime, your brain doesn’t focus on the signals being sent from your stomach. It’s a lot easier to overeat when you’re not paying attention to your body and how you feel with each bite. If all you have to do is put the food in your mouth, chew, and swallow, your brain has no choice but to listen to your body.
2. Give Gratitude
Being grateful for the food on your plate, those who prepared it, and those who grew and harvested it is a great practice to instill into your daily routine. Giving gratitude not only innately slows us down, it feels good! It might sound silly, but gratitude can improve your health and is a great tool in your mindful eating tool belt.
3. Appreciate the Aroma
Some research has shown that the simple act of smelling your food for a few minutes before you dive in can initiate the physiological process of feeling satisfied before you’ve even taken one bite. These findings have promising implications for weight loss — in fact, this strategy is referenced in the famous HBO-sponsored call to action Weight of the Nation (part 2).
4. Avoid Eating While Driving
Have you ever met a smoker trying to quit who says that being alone in the car is the hardest time to abstain? It’s because they’ve created a habit of smoking and driving — just like Pavlov’s dog, they are triggered to smoke by getting into the driver’s seat, whether they really want a cigarette or not. The same can happen to you if you eat in transit. Do you bring your breakfast in the car? Do you have a snack on your drive after work? (I’m guilty of that one and can say first-hand that this reflex is real) Have you ever sat in your driver’s seat and immediately started searching for a snack without even checking in with yourself to see if you’re actively hungry?
Additionally, driving while eating is a form of distracted eating. Not only is your brain distracted from eating and telling you when you’re full while driving, you’re also distracting yourself from the more important task of driving safely! Sure, eating and driving might not be as risky as texting and driving, but it’s still not the best idea. Sit at a table when you eat to create the memory in your mind that the table is for eating and the car is for driving.
5. Set Yourself up for Success
Chances are, if you have the right foods to choose from at your disposal, you’re far more likely to choose what you’ve planned to eat than head down to the vending machine for a Snickers to chomp on while finishing up your day on the computer.
Having a strategy for meals and snacks at work or away from home will help set you up for a more mindful eating practice.
6. Assess Your Hunger
Mindful eating is just as much about why as it is about what, how much, and how often. Are you truly hungry? Is there a void you’re filling or stress you’re avoiding with that mid-morning doughnut hole or do you actually need food? Are you bored? Tired?
The best way to decide if you’re truly hungry is to ask yourself “Would I eat an apple right now?” If the answer is “No, but I sure do want those Doritos,” then you might not truly be hungry. If the answer is “yes” then actually eat the apple or some comparably healthy food and skip the junk.
Have you started your own mindful eating practice? I’d love to hear about it.
List modified from a post at Cultivated Wellbeing