11 Mindful Eating Tips
Most of us live hectic lives and eat on autopilot. We shovel in lunch while working on the computer and eating dinner in front of the tv. We have so much on our minds that we don’t pay attention to our hunger/satiation cues and often get little satisfaction from our meals. I bet many of you can relate to this! When was the last time you ate really slow and enjoyed your meal bite by bite? Or really paid attention to your level of hunger and satiation? The problem is that most of us are always in a rush and don’t take time to focus on our hunger or what our body wants. Kind of like mindless eating. “Mindfulness” is the new buzz word, especially when it comes to eating. Read my guest blog post by nutrition student Emma Christie on why mindful eating is important and learn 11 Mindful Eating Tips that you can start to use today.
What is mindful eating?
The term “mindfulness” was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. Mindful eating is a practice of becoming open-mindedly aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations as you eat – and very importantly, not to judge yourself! The practice is based on curiosity about food and eating, not judgment about good/bad foods. How many times have you berated yourself for having eaten too many cookies or having a third slice of pizza? We get so caught up in what we “should” or “shouldn’t eat” or following the flavor of the month diet, that we lose touch with what our bodies need. While it may be tempting to turn to a diet to reach your goals, you don’t need to. Your body can tell you what it needs. We just need to listen.
Why is mindful eating important?
- Helps us develop a positive relationship with food. At least 30 million people in the U.S. struggle with an eating disorder, while others have disordered eating patterns. Disordered eating is commonly accompanied by being preoccupied with food and body weight, shame and guilt associated with eating, feelings of loss of control, behaviors like exercise or restriction to compensate for “bad” food consumption, and other habits that negatively impact the individuals quality of life. And even if you don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder or pattern of disordered eating, many people have a poor relationship with food.
- Binge Eating. A review of multiple studies demonstrated effective decrease in binge eating and emotional eating with mindfulness training.
- Decreased stress and anxiety around eating.
- Weight Management. Mindfulness Based Interventions are effective in reducing weight and improving emotional, and binge eating behaviors. A comparison of 18 studies showed that ME groups continued weight loss and eating behavior changes at long-term follow up, while the standard-diet weight loss groups regained wt.
- Reduced Food Cravings. This 6-month study sponsored by Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise demonstrated that ME reduced cravings and led to weight loss at a one year follow up.
- Diabetes. ME interventions are as effective in promoting weight loss and blood sugar control as a Standard diabetes self-management education intervention in a three-month trial.
Most of us don’t eat mindfully
The majority of us were not taught how to mindfully eat. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it’s “time to eat”. We are members of the clean plate club. We aren’t in touch with what our bodies really want. We may eat foods that we think we should eat instead of our bodies really want. We may feel shame and confusion when craving foods that don’t fit into our “perfect” diet pattern.
Often times, discontent with food leads to unsustainable diets. No carbs, no sugar, no whatever the new trend is. Many people experience cycles of restriction followed by binging. If you “can’t” have that Oreo, odds are you’re going to eat more than 3 (the amount in one serving size) when you finally have at it.
Have you ever been to a “fancy” restaurant where you were served food on a tiny plate? Maybe you had several courses, but you had plenty of time in between them and the portions were small? You ate slow and savored each bite. By the end of the meal, you were pleasantly satiated and had a great experience. Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat this way all the time!
11 mindful eating tips to guide you
- Forget the judgement!
It is easy to become wrapped up in your food choices. Mindful eating focuses on awareness of your food – without judgment. Becoming aware of your patterns and habits is progress toward reaching your goals. If you are hungry for a snack 20 minutes after lunch – that’s okay! If you are full halfway through dinner – that’s okay! Your body may not want to follow the routine it is forced into. Honor your body’s signals and you will find a routine that truly works for you.
- Pay attention to your hunger cues.
Have you ever gone too long without eating and were ravenous by the time food was in front of you? Did you eat mindfully or did you try to fill up quickly? Paying attention to hunger cues is a key part of mindful eating. Hunger means our body needs fuel and
many people do not know their body’s hunger signals. It may be a slight headache, difficulty focusing, or rumbles from the stomach. If you can identify hunger cues early, it means you can focus on mindfully nourishing our body.
- Plan ahead
Awareness of hunger cues is the first step, but having food to eat is critical. Keep healthy snacks on deck. An apple and packet of peanut butter, trail mix, or jerky are compact snacks you can keep in your bag so when hunger hits, you are prepared.
- Check in – how do you feel?
When you are about to eat, how do you feel? Stressed, hungry, bored, sad? Identifying these emotions is a critical step in reaching your goals. There is a correlation between negative moods and non-nutrient dense “indulgent” foods. This can even exacerbate your mood if you tend to regret eating certain foods. Keeping a journal of what you eat and how you feel is a great way to help you identify patterns.
- Stay hydrated.
It very easy for thirst to be misjudged as hunger. If you are trying to lose weight, this can be especially frustrating. Drinking at least 8 cups of water a day can help you stay hydrated and eliminate thirst confusion. Seltzer or tea and coffee with limited sugar are other great drinks to keep you hydrated throughout the day.
- Sit and reflect.
With busy schedules, we sometimes ignore time for ourselves. Meal and snack time is a great chance to center yourself and reflect. Giving yourself time to focus during meal time can help you fully experience your food. Try not to eat your breakfast in the car, work on your computer during lunch, or watch TV during dinner. Take a seat and turn off the screens.
You will be able to appreciate the taste of food and notice your senses awakening. When you’re having that snack, you may notice that foods are not satisfying you anymore and not want to grab another handful of chips. When we focus on our food, we can make a mind-body connection that will help us make food choices that support your health and wellness. Reference
- Take your time.
It takes up to 20 minutes for the body to signal to the brain that it is full. And when we eat fast, we may not get the signal until we are overly full and feeling bad physically and emotionally. Eating slowly allows your body to adjust to the food and gives time for fullness to set in. Slow down by savoring each bite and placing utensils down between bites. It may even help you to feel full faster
- Pre-portion your plate/use a smaller plate.
Ever hear, “your eyes are bigger than your belly”? While this may be true, the reality is that we tend to eat what is on our plate. Putting less on your plate to start means when its empty, you have a chance to think about if you need more. If you are hungry, portion out a little more. If you are full, wrap up
the rest for later. Visual appeal plays a big role in eating and a small portion may appear unsatisfying. Try a smaller plate to make a smaller quantity look more abundant.
This can be especially difficult when going out to eat. Serving sizes in restaurants tends to be more than we need, but we have some solutions. If you are with someone, see if they want to split a meal. If they don’t, that’s okay! Try to eat slowly and listen to your body as you eat. When you are full, wrap it up (double win because you have amazing leftovers for tomorrow). If you were famished and needed to eat it all, that’s okay too. Or maybe you arrive at the restaurant and realize you aren’t that hungry. Opt for an appetizer or a side (or both if you need it).
- See what works for you.
Mindful eating looks different for everyone. Trying different approaches can help you learn what works best. Whether it is a peaceful dinner in silence or a bustling meal with friends, remember to focus on your bodies signals and enjoy the meal.
- Balancing what you need and what you want.
When you learn you body’s signals, you may still be stumped on WHAT to eat. A registered dietitian can help you learn how to fuel yourself. BUT, you also may be frustrated with what you want. Let’s face it, my love for Stacy’s Pita Chips 24/7 and need for Oreos when I’m upset are not going away. I learned it’s best to eat less nourishing foods with a meal or as a dessert. Having the chips with hummus and veggies as a snack means I fill up on both. Or eating a sweet snack after dinner means my hunger cues aren’t in crazy overdrive and I don’t want to eat large quantities (as much).
- Honor your body – this means your belly and mind. Everything in moderation is my mantra when it comes to food. Give your body what it needs – as it needs (i.e. it needs a lot of fruits and veggies so HAVE lots and does not NEED Oreos so have less of those). You will get full from the “good” stuff and truly not need as much of the “bad” and you will be less likely to experience cycles of restricting and binging.
Are you willing to give it a try?
A simple experiment that has a powerful effect is under the guidance of Kabat-Zinn. Get a raisin, and not a handful as usual…just one little raisin. Pick up the raisin. Look at it. Smell it. Feel its weight. Notice its stickiness. Place the raisin in your mouth, but don’t chew it, just roll it around. What does the taste? Are you salivating? Bite down once. Chew slowly and stay aware of your sensations. Chew the raisin until it is liquid in your mouth. Swallow the raisin. Give yourself a few moments to reflect on your experience. Just one, tiny raisin and so many sensations.
Remember – there are no “rules” with mindful eating. These tips will guide you to understand your body’s signals and honor them. Some days you may be able to eat more, other days you may be full half way through. Try not to judge the differences, it is simply the nourishment your body needs.
I’d like to thank Emma Christie for writing this blog post. Emma is a dietetic intern at CUNY School of Public Health. She recently graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. in Dietetics and a minor in Environmental Humanities. She enjoys expanding her nutrition knowledge and exploring different career opportunities through the internship. Some of Emma’s favorite activities include hiking, reading, and sharing a good meal with friends.
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.