Noshing on Auto Pilot? How to Practice Mindful Eating

by | Habits, The Way We Eat

Hunger is multi-faceted. The brain takes hunger cues from the mind, body and environment. If we eat remove one of these cues and eat mindlessly, we may overeat.

This is because it takes time (about 20 minutes) for the brain to recognize that the body is full. Fortunately, you when you learn how to practice mindful eating, you slow the body down just enough for your brain to catch up.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindfulness means being present. When you eat mindfully, you enjoy your food and allow your body and brain to work together better.

Mindless eating happens when we’re busy. We eat while driving, eat while watching television or eat while running out the door.  This creates a distracted eating experience that leads to overeating and stomach distress.

Eating mindfully is not just about eating fewer calories. Mindful eating changes eating behavior, showing you how to practice mindful eating. What’s more, mindful eating benefits you throughout the day, which improves physical and emotional health.

How to Practice Mindful Eating

Are you really hungry?

Check in with your emotions before eating.  Are you eating because you’re hungry? Or, are you eating because you’re sad, mad or bored?  This is important. Emotional eating leads to eating excess calories. Here’s why: When stressed, we may crave fatty, sugar-laden foods. We also seek distraction or entertainment. And food provides an easy answer, especially when defenses are low.

So, what can you do about it? Find out whether you’re responding to stress or emotional cues. Ask yourself these questions.

  • Does your stomach feel empty?
  • Has it been a few hours since your last meal?
  • Are you craving a specific type of food rather than food in general? If it’s a craving, wait 30 minutes and allow the feeling to pass.

Want more info? Check out this article by Allison Hagendorf titled 5 Things You Can Do to Avoid Getting Hangry.

How to practice mindful eating using all your senses.

Food should be enjoyed. Food designed to be eaten on the go usually doesn’t taste that good. Think about it. When you go to a typical fast food place, you end of wolfing down your food. You don’t get a chance to enjoy it. That’s why some of the restaurants get away with serving subpar food. Go to a gourmet restaurant and you’ll notice that the serving sizes are smaller, but the meals are somehow more satisfying. It’s the experience that makes the difference.

For at least one meal a week, treat all your senses. Light a candle. Turn on some slow music. Pull out the fancy dinnerware. If you have the option, use smaller plates.

Be mindful of how you plate your food. Don’t just plop the food on your plate. Make it pretty. Combine different textures and colors.

Add raw vegetables to your meal.  Vegetables increase chewing time and add fiber to your diet, both of which will fill you up.

When you eat, observe your food.  Look at your food. Smell it. Take small bites, using small utensils. Try chopsticks. This not only forces you to take smaller bites, but it also slows you down.

Allow the food to linger on your tongue. Then, slowly chew your food. While some people recommend counting each chew, this may distract from the eating experience.  Instead, chew until your food is soft.

Remove all your distractions.

We eat more when distracted, whether we’re eating in front of the television or grabbing a donut while rushing the kids off to school. Distracted eating causes you to eat more and miss the satiety signals that say: “Hey, I’m full.”

To listen to yourself better, make at least one meal a day a distraction-free meal. Don’t eat in front of the television or computer. Put your phone out of reach, view and earshot.  Technology isn’t the only culprit. No reading or writing at the dinner table either.

Avoid eating meals on-the-go. It’s hard to have a satisfying meal if you’re eating while standing or driving.

Stay mindful throughout the meal.

Put the fork down and take a deep breath between each bite. This gives you more time to reflect on how your body feels.

Stop eating just before you feel full. You’ll feel like you can eat more, but don’t need extra food.

Avoid leaving a meal feeling sick, stuffed or fatigued. If you do, it’s okay. Take a short 10-minute walk after your meal, nothing too strenuous. Learn from the experience. What can you do next time to be more mindful and avoid overeating?

How do you practice mindful eating?