Dieting is a practice many of us know well. Approximately 45 million Americans diet each year, and tens of billions of dollars are spent on weight loss products and programs. However, in recent years, some different trends have emerged, as many individuals search for an alternative to restrictive, yo-yo dieting patterns. One of those trends is a practice called mindful eating.
So, what is mindful eating, and why are people using it to gain more control over their health?
Simply put, mindful eating is the acknowledgement of, and attention to, feelings around food choices, and feelings of hunger and fullness during mealtimes. It is a collection of techniques that can allow greater flexibility in your diet as you learn how to self-regulate your appetite and find balance between healthy eating and indulgence.
Mindful eating can be helpful for individuals who:
- – Feel frustrated with the cycles of weight loss and weight gain associated with dieting.
- – Regularly eat past the point of fullness.
- – Find themselves snacking constantly, even when they’re not hungry.
- – Want to eat healthy, but also want to feel okay when it’s not a perfect, clean eating day.
Though, it’s not easy to just ‘be mindful’ about food choices and your appetite during mealtimes, so there are many techniques you can use to practice this skill!
Mindful Eating Tips
Self-regulating our appetite is an essential part of the mindful eating practice. Self-regulating just means that you eat when you are feeling hungry, and stop eating when you are feeling full. There are many reasons why someone might ignore these hunger and fullness cues. Maybe you are ignoring feelings of hunger because you’re on a restricted calorie diet, or maybe you’re eating past fullness because you’re feeling bored, stressed, or emotional.
Mindful eating can help us tap back into those appetite cues that tell us, “Eat! You’re hungry!” or “Stop eating, you feel satisfied!”. It can be hard to listen to feelings of hunger and fullness when we aren’t really paying attention. One way to pay better attention to those feelings – slow down.
When it comes to the pace of eating, most people don’t realize that our brain and our stomach are on different timelines. The feeling of fullness is influenced by a hormone called leptin, which is released by our fat cells to signal that we are full and can stop eating. However, it can take a little time for our body to release leptin and to register that feeling of fullness.
So, when we eat too quickly, we can easily eat past the point of fullness, without fully acknowledging our feelings of hunger and fullness. You may have experienced this before – you’re eating your meal and continue to feel hungry, until suddenly your brain catches up with your body, and you’re really full.
While you can just attempt to slow down your pace of eating, here are some general tips to help you out:
- – Put your utensil down between bites
- – Chew each bite at least 15 times
- – Spend meals with others and socialize
- – Use chopsticks
Now that you have a plan to slow down your pace of eating, you can move on to this next mindful eating technique.
Use your Senses
Another component of mindful eating is paying attention to the feelings of eating. And of course, we register these feelings with our senses. Smell, taste, touch, sight, and even hearing! When you slow down your pace of eating, it can allow you to spend more time being mindful about how your meal impacts your senses, beyond just taste. This can also encourage greater appreciation for the flavor and quality of the meal you’re eating. Savor every bite like it’s your last!
Using your senses can help you tap back into the why behind your food choices. It can help cultivate deeper appreciation for our food, and is a good reminder to stop, enjoy, notice, and reflect. Be curious – challenge yourself to think about why you choose to eat that particular food item or meal, and how it makes you feel, before, during, and after meals.
If you want to practice this mindful eating technique, there is a great exercise for you to try. While this exercise prompts you to use a piece of chocolate candy, you can apply this practice to any food item.
One of the biggest barriers to mindful eating is distraction, particularly, electronic distractions. Scrolling through social media on your cell phone, watching TV or movies, eating while you work on your laptop or desktop computer… Life gets busy, and we rarely sit down to eat with the sole purpose of… well, eating.
So, put those screens away. Place your phone in the other room while you eat. Actually take your lunch break, and step away from the computer for 30 minutes. Commit to eating at the dinner table rather than in front of the television. While it might not be reasonable to commit to removing the electronics for every single meal, every single day of the week, choose a reasonable number of meals to start with as a goal! For example – no screen time during at least 5 dinnertime meals per week.
While limiting distractions can be a helpful way to allow a mindful eating practice, there is one distraction that can help improve your mindfulness during meals. Social distraction! Eating with friends, family, and colleagues can have a positive effect on your social and mental health, and can improve enjoyment of mealtimes. While you may not be as focused on the food itself, you can shift your mindful thoughts to more broadly encompass the entirety of the mealtime.