To be honest, the areas of mindfulness and mindful eating are places where I struggle. I come from a family that eats off of each others’ plates, and I think somewhere along the way I learned that I’d get more food into my mouth if I ate it really quickly. It became a running joke that at the end of each meal, I’d be so full that I had to unbutton my pants and hold them away from my little belly. In retrospect, it’s not really that funny, but I was a pretty cute kid and my parents didn’t know any better. It’s been a challenge to learn my lesson about overeating even as an adult, but I’ve found a few little tricks, which I’ll share with you today.
Mindful eating isn’t just about avoiding overeating. It’s about ensuring that the food you do eat is nourishing you on every level: mind, body, and spirit. It’s about examining your habits and finding ways to refine or change them into those that feed you in more ways than one. It’s about being present at meal time, whether you’re with company or alone, and truly appreciating what’s in front of you.
Like I said, I struggle with this too, so don’t be overwhelmed with this list. I tried to keep it simple and list a few small, doable actions that can help you get your mindful eating practice started today. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to implement every single one of these at once, so keep this list as a reference and try one at a time to see what works best for you. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.
7 Tips for Mindful Eating
1. Turn off and unplug
Mealtime should be only that — mealtime. Not text time, not web-surfing time, not TV time. This might be the hardest task on this list if you’re eating alone (especially in public), but just try it. Set a goal for yourself to unplug while eating for the next 3 days and see if you notice a difference in a) how much you eat, b) how nourished you feel, and c) how relaxed you feel upon completion.
When you engage in activities other than the task at hand during mealtime, your brain doesn’t focus on the signals being sent from your stomach. It’s a lot easier to overeat when you’re not paying attention to your body and how you feel with each bite. If all you have to do is put the food in your mouth, chew, and swallow, your brain has no choice but to listen to your body.
2. Express/Observe gratitude
These days, it’s just too easy to whip something up in the kitchen, throw it on the table, and start mowing down the second my butt hits the seat without a thought. But what if I took a few extra seconds to acknowledge how the food I’m about to eat got to my plate? is it food I grew in my backyard with the help of my husband? Was it food I bought at the farmers’ market from the farmer herself? Is it an animal that lost its life so I could nourish mine?
Giving gratitude not only innately slows us down, it feels good! I know it sounds silly, but gratitude can improve your health and is a great tool in your mindful eating tool belt.
3. Stop and smell the roses (or the pot roast)
The time I have between the gym and bedtime feels like it’s getting shorter, and the less time I spend cooking and eating, the more time I will have to relax with the dog at the end of the day, right? Maybe, but maybe not. If I treat cooking and eating as part of my relaxing evening, won’t each night be more enjoyable?
Some research has shown that the simple act of smelling your food for a few minutes before you dive in can initiate the physiological process of feeling satisfied before you’ve even taken one bite. These findings have promising implications for weight loss — in fact, this strategy is referenced in the famous HBO-sponsored call to action Weight of the Nation (part 2).
4. Sit at a table, not in the driver’s seat
We’re all guilty of snacking in the car from time to time, some of us more frequently than others. I have to admit that I’ve had to break this habit more than once. At times, it’s been reflexive for me to leave work, plop into the driver’s seat, and open the center console for a snack without thinking.
Eating in the car is another version of distracted eating. Not only is your brain distracted from eating and telling you when you’re full, you’re also distracting yourself from the more important task of driving safely! Sure, eating and driving might not be as risky as texting and driving, but it’s still not the best idea. Sit at a table when you eat to create the memory in your mind that the table is for eating and the car is for driving.
5. Plan Plan Plan – Be prepared
This tip is about deliberately setting yourself up for success. If you have the right foods to choose from at any given time, foods that were chosen mindfully, you’re far more likely to choose what you’ve planned to eat than head down to the vending machine for a Snickers to chomp on while finishing up your day on the computer.
Breaking the eating while driving habit took planning my workday better so that I wouldn’t be hungry when I got in the car after work. Having a strategy for meals and snacks at work or away from home will help set you up for a more mindful eating practice.
6. Assess your hunger
Mindful eating is just as much about why as it is about what, how much, and how often. Are you truly hungry? Is there a void you’re filling or stress you’re avoiding with that mid-morning doughnut hole or do you actually need food? Are you bored? Tired?
The best way to decide if you’re truly hungry is to ask yourself “Would I eat an apple right now?” If the answer is “No, but I sure do want those Doritos,” then you might not truly be hungry. If the answer is “yes” then actually eat the apple or some comparably healthy food and skip the junk.
7. Try a gentle cleanse
I recently did a very short kitchari cleanse to usher in the spring season, and in the few days I spent eating only mung beans, brown rice, fruits and vegetables, I realized that limiting my choices truly brought about mindful eating. It wasn’t what I was expecting to get out of my cleansing experience, but it was a truly valuable lesson. Being temporarily limited (emphasis on temporary) allowed me to subconsciously utilize a good portion of the list I just spelled out for you. In fact, it’s what inspired this post in the first place. When I only had the few foods to choose from, I had to ask myself if I was truly hungry enough to eat the same thing again, I couldn’t eat in the car, and I had to make my food in advance.
Cleansing can do a lot for us physically, but this psychoemotional piece was a pleasant surprise, and it’s helped me bring a more mindful intention to my daily meals.