One of the first steps to eating better (aside from ditching the All or Nothing mindset), is to practice being more mindful. And mindful eating is a great place to start!
What's mindful eating? Mindful eating is about bringing you attention back to your food, noticing how different foods make you feel, and tuning into your body's hunger and fullness cues.
At it's core, mindful eating embraces the following:
Eating slowly and distraction free
Awareness around physical hunger and fullness cues
Learning to identify physical hunger vs. emotional hunger or habit eating
Engaging your senses by appreciating the colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors
Learning to release guilt, shame and anxiety around food(s)
Identifying how different foods effect your feelings, thoughts and body
Discovering a true appreciation of your food
These actions help you to replace automatic thoughts and behaviors with more conscious acts and feelings around and about food. When you're more present with your food and your body, you naturally increase food satisfaction and satiety. And studies show by practicing mindful eating regularly can reduce overeating, emotional eating and autopilot eating (aka habit eating), all of which support weight loss and foster a healthier relationship with food.
Mindless Eating vs. Mindful Eating.
With mindless eating, your focus isn’t solely on your food and the eating experience. You might be eating while catching up on episodes of your favorite t.v. show, scrolling your phone or sitting in front of your computer. Or maybe you're eating a quick bite before walking into a meeting, driving between errands, or while walking around at a party. Each of these tend to have a few challenges in common: you’re eating distracted, quickly and rarely tuning into your body's hunger or fullness signals. And this type of distracted eating tends to result in consuming more than you realize, or even intended to, and often quite quickly. If you’re used to eating on-the-go or while multi-tasking, there’s a good chance that it's become a habit, which means you rarely notice how much or of what you're eating, much less how certain foods make you feel or when you've eaten past the point of physical hunger.
Mindful eating is a whole different ball game. It’s about be present with your food so you can savor every sight, smell and taste. Taking the time to enjoy your snack or meal, engages your senses with every mouthful. And when you're not rushing through your food, you increase food satisfaction and feelings of satiety too.
Why is slowing down and appreciating your food so important? Experts agree it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to register feelings of fullness. Eating slowly helps support your ability to recognize these fullness cues, so you can eat to enough and avoid feeling stuffed. Have you ever found yourself rushing back for seconds of something because you're still hungry or it's just so good? That's a common by-product of mindless eating.
How can you make the transition from mindless to mindful eating?
Start With Preparation.
You can start by using your meal prep and any cooking time as an opportunity to engage the senses and build a strong appreciation for what you’ll be eating.
Bringing each of your senses to the table is a big component of eating mindfully, increasing food satisfaction and satiety. You’ll want to immerse yourself in the visual elements of your food and the delicious smells that fill the room while it’s cooking. Don’t forget about how the food feels, noticing how the textures may change as it’s chopped, peeled or cooked. Even sounds are powerful… think about the sizzle of onions in a hot pan or the rolling and snapping of water as it begins to boil in a pot. Any opportunity to involve each of your senses in the process is a win.
Think about the ingredients you’re using and how they made it into your kitchen. Where did they come from? What was involved in their journey to get to you? How many people were involved in this?
Remove outside distractions as you work. That means no television on in the background and no YouTube videos or podcasts running. This allows you to fully give your attention to being present and in the moment with your foods and later your meal.
Slow It Down.
Slowing down the eating process is an important component of mindful eating, and one of the simplest ways to start is by chewing your food thoroughly.
Experts recommend that you chew each mouthful up to 25 times (and sometimes more). This might seem daunting if you’re used to swallowing your food quickly, one bite after the other, and only after one or two chews, but it's good for both healthy digestion and food satisfaction.
Let’s talk about 2 important roles chewing your food well plays in your health:
It’s often said that digestion starts in your mouth, not your stomach. This is because chewing your food well helps you break it down into smaller pieces that are much easier for your body to digest. It also makes it easier for nutrients to be extracted from the food you've consumed. If you notice you tend to struggle with digestive issues, chewing your food well could be a huge help.
Chewing your food well also helps you to feel satisfied vs. stuffed. This is largely due to the fact that chewing mindfully forces you to eat at a slower pace, allowing you to recognize feelings of fullness and enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction from your food. Whereas eating too quickly is strongly linked to overeating, which can leave you feeling uncomfortable, stuffed, or even sick.
According to the results of a study involving 30 women, eating at a slower pace meant they ate less food and felt significantly fuller and satisfied too.
And in another study, chewing food thoroughly reduced intakes of sweet snacks, such as cookies and candy. Those are two pretty great reasons to take it slow!
Eating Alone Versus Eating With Others.
Do you eat most of your meals with others or do you tend to eat them alone?
Eating alone can make you more likely to engage in mindless eating behaviors, such as multi-tasking on your phone or sitting in front of the television. When this happens, it's typically a recipe for overeating. And when it occurs on the regular, it can do a number on your health and your waistline.
If you're eating meals alone it may feel comforting to distract yourself with the t.v. or by scrolling your mobile device, but this really just sets you up for mindless eating. Instead of tuning into your food and how your body feels, you tune out. And with your focus somewhere else, it's not uncommon to find yourself not only eating much more quickly, but also lack feelings of food satisfaction, which tends to send you going back for more.
But when you eat distraction free you give yourself the opportunity to connect with how you are feeling and truly be present with and enjoy your food. This empowers you to better recognize your body’s hunger and fullness cues, so you can identify when you're beginning to feel full and reduce overeats.
Pro tip: to make eating alone a mindful experience give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your food. Sit down at a table or countertop and remove distractions. Slow food consumption down by placing your fork down between bites, chewing thoroughly and taking a sip of water before your next bite. This will retrain your brain to make food a more fun and pleasurable experience.
Eating with others often naturally slows the pace of food consumption, making you less susceptible to eat mindlessly. Conversations that ebb and flow will naturally cause you to put your fork down between bites, making easier to eat more slowly. In some instances thought, the downside of eating in social settings is that some will find that they actually eat more than they intended. This can happen because we're sitting at the table longer than when we eat alone, and we may find ourselves grazing past the point of hunger or eating things we might not normally.
Pro tip: if you find yourself rushing through meals or drawn to continue grazing past your first plated portions, try putting the focus back on the moment, your environment, how your body feels, and the opportunity to connect with others.
Take away: there are plenty of ways we can practice being more mindful, and reap the mind and body benefits! Eating mindfully will help you recognize the difference between physical and emotional hunger, so you can feel more in control of your choices. By raising awareness, you're better able to respond to your body's cues in a way that promotes a healthy food relationship, supports your goals, and reduces self-sabotage as well as other unhealthy behaviors.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.