3.3 – Mindful Eating

Learning Objective

  • Explain the concept of mindful eating

 

A number of research studies have shown that incorporating mindfulness practices while eating can help individuals reduce stress and promote healthier eating behaviors. If you would like to read more about this topic, click here. Let’s explore six techniques that you could apply in your own life.   The excerpt below is from the blog post: 6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating by Dr. Christopher Willard.

A table comparing mindless eating to mindful eating.
Mindless Eating Mindful Eating
Eating past full and ignoring your body’s signals Listening to your body and stopping when full
Eating when emotions tell us to eat(i.e, sad, bored, lonely) Eating when our bodies tell us to eat(i.e., stomach growling, energy low)
Eating at random times and places Eating at set times and places
Eating foods that are emotionally comforting Eating foods that are nutritionally healthy
Eating without regard to your knowledge of the food Consider cultural messages learned about the food
Eating and multitasking When eating, just eating
Considering a meal an end product Considering where food comes from

 

Let your body catch up to your brain

Eating rapidly past full and ignoring your body’s signals vs. slowing down and eating and stopping when your body says it’s full.

Slowing down is one of the best ways we can get our mind and body to communicate what we really need for nutrition. The body actually sends its satiation signal about 20 minutes after the brain begins eating, which is why we often unconsciously overeat. But, if we slow down, you can give your body a chance to catch up to your brain and hear the signals to eat the right amount. Simple ways to slow down might just include following many of your grandmother’s manners, like sitting down to eat, chewing each bite 25 times (or more), setting your fork down between bites, and all those old manners that are maybe not as pointless as they seemed. What are some ways you can slow down eating and listen more deeply to your body’s signals?

 

Know your body’s personal hunger signals

Are you responding to an emotional want or responding to your body’s needs?

Often we listen first to our minds, but like many mindfulness practices, we might discover more wisdom by tuning into our bodies first. Rather than just eating when we get emotional signals, which may be different for each of us, be they stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness or even just boredom, we can listen to our bodies. Is your stomach growling, energy low, or feeling a little lightheaded? Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is actually listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger. Ask yourself: What are your body’s hunger signals, and what are your emotional hunger triggers?

 

Develop healthy eating environments

Eating alone and randomly vs. eating with others at set times and places.

Another way that we eat mindlessly is by wandering around looking through cabinets, eating at random times and places, rather than just thinking proactively about our meals and snacks. This slows us down for one thing, but prevents us from developing healthy environmental cues about what and how much to eat, and wires our brains for new cues for eating that not always ideal. (do you really want to create a habit to eat every time you get in the car or other situations?) Sure, we all snack from time to time, but it can boost both your mind and body’s health, not to mention greatly helping your mood and sleep schedule to eat at consistent times and places. Yes, that means sitting down (at a table!), putting food on a plate or bowl, not eating it out of the container, and using utensils not our hands. It also helps to eat with others, not only are you sharing and getting some healthy connection, but you also slow down and can enjoy the food and conversation more, and we take our cues from our dinner partner, not over or under-eating out of emotion.

When we put our food away in cabinets and the fridge, we also are more likely to eat healthy amounts of healthy food, so consider what’s around, where it is and whether it’s in within view. If we limit eating to the kitchen and dining room, we are also less likely to eat mindlessly or eat while multitasking. When food is around, we eat it. And food, not always the healthiest, is often around at the holidays.

You don’t have to plan your food down to each bite, and it’s important to be flexible especially at special occasions, but just be aware of the fact that you might be changing your eating habits at different times of the year or for different occasions. And when you do plan ahead, you are also more likely to eat the amount your body needs at that moment than under-eating and indulging later, or overeating and regretting it later.

The classic advice is to also not shop when hungry, but the middle path applies here as well. A psychological effect is known as “moral licensing” has shown that shoppers who buy kale are more likely to then head to the alcohol or ice cream section than those who don’t. We seem to think that our karma will balance out and we can “spend” it on junk food, or other less than ideal behaviors.

 

Understand your motivations

Eating foods that are emotionally comforting vs. eating foods that are nutritionally healthy.

This is another tricky balance, and ideally, we can find nourishing foods that are also satisfying and comforting. …when we slow down and eat healthy foods like raisins, we often enjoy them more than the story we tell ourselves about healthy foods. As we practice eating healthier and choosing a greater variety of foods, we are less inclined to binge on our comfort foods, and more inclined to enjoy healthy foods, ultimately finding many foods mentally and physically satisfying as opposed to just a few.

 

Connect more deeply with your food

Considering where food comes from vs. thinking of food as an end product.

Unless you are a hunter-gatherer or sustenance farmer, we have all become ever more disconnected from our food in recent years. Many of us don’t even consider where a meal comes from beyond the supermarket packaging. This is a loss because eating offers an incredible opportunity to connect us more deeply to the natural world, the elements and to each other.

When we pause to consider all of the people involved in the meal that has arrived on your plate, from the loved ones (and yourself) who prepared it, to those who stocked the shelves, to those who planted and harvested the raw ingredients, to those who supported them, it is hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected. Be mindful of the water, soil, and other elements that were part of its creation as you sit down to eat whatever you are eating. You can reflect on the cultural traditions that brought you this food, the recipes generously shared from friends, or brought from a distant place and time to be a handed down in the family.

As you consider everything that went into the meal, it becomes effortless to experience and express gratitude to all of the people who gave their time and effort, the elements of the universe that contributed their share, our friends or ancestors who shared recipes and even the beings who may have given their lives to a part of creating this meal. With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health in our food, not just for us but for the whole planet.

 

Attend to your plate

Distracted eating vs. just eating

Multitasking and eating is a recipe for not being able to listen deeply to our body’s needs and wants. We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with our bag full of popcorn, and before the coming attractions are over, we are asking who ate all of our popcorn. When we are distracted, it becomes harder to listen to our body’s signals about food and other needs. With your next meal, try single-tasking and just eating, with no screens or distractions besides enjoying the company you are sharing a meal and conversation with.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Slow down while eating and listen more deeply to your body’s signals.
  • Listen to your body’s hunger signals and become aware of your emotional hunger triggers.
  • Develop a healthy eating environment. Find nourishing foods that are also satisfying and comforting.
  • Experience and express gratitude to everything that went into the creation of the meal you are eating.
  • Avoid other distractions when eating. Just eat!

 

DISCUSSION STARTERS

  1. Try eating one meal using the techniques on this page. Note how you feel before you begin. Are you anxious, stressed, or in a hurry to get on to the next thing on your “to-do” list?  How did it feel to take the time, slow down and appreciate your food? Did you feel differently at the end of the meal?