Mindful Eating: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Eating Slowly
Learn how to eat more mindfully so that each bite you take is a true delight!
The trick to practicing healthier eating habits is to slow down.
Have you ever done this: parked yourself in from of the TV with a plate of food in your lap and zoned out, putting your hand and mouth on autopilot, eating one big bite after the other without stopping to enjoy what you are eating?
Most of us are guilty of tuning out sometimes when we eat. Or we focus on trying to do something else while we eat: send a text message, flip through a magazine, read the newspaper. But did you know that such mindless eating can cause you to eat more food than you actually need in one meal. Mindless eating, or eating while distracted, means that you're more likely to make smart meal and snack choices, and you won’t feel as satisfied as you would if you slowed down to enjoy every bite. Mindless eating and snacking can leave you feeling stuffed. You may experience more sugar crashes as you load up too quickly on carbohydrates, not giving your stomach time to tell your brain, “That’s enough!”
Mindful eating, or eating with intention, is a healthy way to develop a positive relationship with food. The more present moment awareness you bring to eat bite you put in your mouth, the easier it will be to choose foods that nourish you. Here are a few steps you can take to start eating more mindfully so that you make smart, satisfying meal and snack choices.
Here are some of the top things that stand in the way of eating more mindfully:
- Lack of time/ Feeling rushed
- Fear of wasting food (a habit likely developed at a young age around the family dinner table)
- Multi-tasking: eating while working, playing on the computer, or watching TV
- Lack of planning; having to eat pre-packaged, processed foods because there's no time to make a meal
- Eating out of a package instead of using a bowl, plate or drinking cup
- Substances such as drugs, prescriptions and alcohol that interfere with your mind-body connection, increase your appetite or reduce your ability to gauge how much you've eaten
1. Give thanks for your meal or snack before you begin. The simple act of silently giving thanks for the food before you is the first step to a more mindful eating experience. Gratitude and appreciation brings you back to the present moment. It helps you ground yourself in the here and now. Mindful eating is appreciative eating.
2. Use your senses. As you eat, notice the texture of the food in your mouth. What do you smell when you’re savoring your food? Can you pick out the different flavors and spices in your tickling your tongue?
Does eating this food remind you of a particularly happy experience or a pleasant memory from your childhood. Or does the taste of the food remind you of an unpleasant memory, such as growing up in poverty and always being afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to go around? If you had to ‘fight’ to get your fair share of food at home, or at school, as a child, you may be unconsciously eating your food quickly before it gets snatched up by a bully or confiscated as a punishment for something. Noticing how you react to food and the memories that you bring to the act of eating can help you become a more mindful eater.
3. Eat slowly. There are many tricks you can use to slow down your eating pace; put your fork down after every bite, chew your food slowly, eat with the opposite hand that you normally use. Anything you can do to slow down how quickly you ingest your food will encourage mindful eating. Slowing down will allow your stomach to send a signal to your brain that it is satisfied.
4. Is a second serving really necessary? Before you go for a second plate, ask yourself if you are physically hungry or if there is another non-food void you are trying to fill (stress, fatigue. loneliness, boredom). If you continue to eat will you feel invigorated and energetic, or sluggish and guilty? What is the worst thing that will happen if you don’t have a second helping right away? Will you pass out? Unless the answer is a resounding yes, waiting a few minutes before deciding on whether or not you need an extra helping is a good idea.
The great thing about putting off a second serving is that you’ll still be able to enjoy the leftovers the next day for lunch! Don’t let your fear of wasting food fool you into thinking you must eat everything on the day it was prepared. Learn how to store and reuse your leftovers so that you don't have to fret about wasting food!
5. Sip water frequently while you eat. Water should be sipped to aid digestion and not guzzled to wash food down your throat so that you can gulp down another mouthful.
6. Don’t starve yourself during the day because you’re too busy for lunch or breakfast. When dinnertime rolls around, you’ll be tempted to overeat because you’ll feel famished. Try not to go for more than 3 – 5 hours without eating something no matter how busy you think you are.
7. Look up! Enjoy the people around you while you eat. If you are dining in the presence of friends and family, take joy in this precious moment of family time. If you are eating with co-workers, listen to them thoughtfully. Enjoy their unique perspectives. Even if you are dining all by yourself, you can still notice and appreciate the people around you. If you are an avid people watcher who loves to watch the world go by this will feel second nature to you. When you notice the people around you and take a moment to appreciate the rich diversity it will be harder to keep your head down, facing your plate while you mindlessly gobble your food down. Also, the more aware you are of the people around you, the less likely you'll be to eat big mouthfuls. Let manners and good taste help you eat more mindfully!
Note: Always consult with your healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you have underlying health issues. Furthermore, this article is for information purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat eating disorders. If you are struggling with complex eating issues, consider seeking professional guidance and care.
Which of these eating habits do you need to work on in order to eat more mindfully?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Sadie Holloway