We live in a “fast-food society” and that can often lead to terrible eating habits. When we aren’t mindful of what we eat, we slip into things like overeating, consumption of “junk” foods and even worse diet faux pas’s. If you want to eat better, feel better and have more energy, check out this crash-guide to mindful eating.
By not eating mindfully, we are shortchanging our bodies. You will get out of your body what you put in. Eating in this manner allows us to stay focused and give our bodies the best fuel to perform at its highest levels. And it’s not even that hard…I promise!
Why Eat Mindful?
1. Weight Loss
The biggest benefit of eating more mindfully? You’ll lose weight.
Mindless eating leads to overeating, that’s just a proven fact. By eating more mindfully, you will automatically eat less and be able to better keep track of what is going into your body. That zombie munching and crunching might seem harmless, but it’s adding inches to your waist line and can quickly lead to obesity.
To avoid mindless eating, start small. If possible, eat off of a smaller plate. A study at Cornell University found that those who ate off of larger plates ate 25-50% more food mindlessly than those that ate off of smaller plates.
You can also slow down and take more time to eat your meals. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to communicate fullness with your brain. That means that the faster you eat, the more likely you are to overeat. Thus, eventual obesity. Slowing down will allow your brain to keep track with your stomach, and will also aid in your digestion. (Who doesn’t want to skip that tummy ache?)
Observing even these 2 simple habits means 1 thing: eating less. And when you eat less, you lose weight. (Healthily, of course.)
2. Flex That Brain Muscle
Mindful eating necessarily requires you to pay attention and engage your brain.
The attention required for mindful eating requires to flex your attention muscle and engages the brain in much the same way that meditation and mindfulness practice do. When you are eating mindfully, you are constantly bringing your attention back to what you’re eating.
Most people can manage their time well, but the most productive people in life manage both their attention and their energy well. Eating mindfully can help with both.
3. Enjoy Your Food More
Eating slower and concentrating on what you’re eating allows you to actually enjoy the food you’re eating.
Think about it. If you’re one of those people who stacks their plate then wolfs down the food, what was the last thing you really, truly tasted? Stop for a second and really think about it. What was the texture of all the different foods like? What spices were used? How did they mix together. Was one spicy and one sweet?
When you direct all your attention on what you’re eating you’ll enjoy your food so much more. It’s not rocket science. When you eat a smaller amount of food over a longer amount of time, you’re bound to enjoy it more.
How to Eat Mindfully
It’s not hard to eat mindfully, despite what many people might tell you. It’s simple, really. By slowing down, eating less, having fewer distractions and learning how to control your thoughts – you are already well on your way.
1. Slow It Right Down
As I said before: eat slower. Don’t let the panic and rush of modern life make you feel like you have to eat as quickly as possible. It takes at least 20 minutes for our brains to realize our stomachs are full, so your tummy needs time to relay the message. Chew each bite 20-25 times before swallowing. This will break the food down more and make it easier to digest. It will also allow your stomach to communicate fullness more efficiently and accurately with your brain.
2. Lessen The Distractions
Trying to do a million things while you eat is a one-way ticket to Overeating Central.
The fewer things you attempt to do while eating, the fewer things you spread your attention over. That means more attention for the things that matter…like eating! Focus on what you’re eating and don’t let all the other stuff like emails, text messages and driving get in the way. Give your body time to do what it does best.
3. Focus On Your Food
Think about the flavors of your food and the textures. Try to pick out how the flavors blend together to create something new and delicious. The more you think about what you’re eating the more you will be able to enjoy it. Also take time to be grateful for what you’re eating. Like our mothers always said, there’s something starving somewhere that would love to have what you have!
4. Control Your Brain
Our brains have a maximum attention span; that’s just the way things go. But that doesn’t mean that you need to let your wandering mind control you.
Just like in meditation, your mind will wander while you eat. Don’t let it! If you feel your concentration slipping away from your delicious food, bring it back gently to the task at hand.
More Tips For Mindful Eating
While those are the basics covered, there are still many things you can do to ensure mindful eating success:
1. Watch Out For That Eating Pause
According to WebMD, most people unknowingly take a break in the middle of their meals. They put down their knife and fork and stop eating for a few minutes. This is what is known as the “eating pause”, and is almost always followed by mindless, zombie-like munching.
Watch out for this pause, and try not to allow yourself to put down your utensils until you are full and / or the meal is completed. Once the knife and fork is down – the meal is over!
2. Cook Your Own Food
Cooking your own food isn’t always possible, but it’s something that we should really strive for at every meal.
Making food from scratch is not only better for you, health wise. Cooking your own food also allows you a greater appreciation for the food that you eat. If you keep a busy schedule, try preparing fresh food in bulk and freezing it, so it can be reheated and reused on an “as-needed” basis.
3. What’s The Story Behind It All?
When it comes to eating mindfully, we should always consider the story behind our food.
In the book, Savor, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung, the suggestion is made that we should always think about where our food comes from.
“Look deeply at [an apple] and you see the farmer who tended the apple tree; the blossom that became the fruit; the fertile earth, the organic material from decayed remains of prehistoric marine animals and algae, and the hydrocarbons themselves; the sunshine, the clouds, and the rain. Without the combination of these far-reaching elements and without the help of many people, the apple would simply not exist.”
Thinking deeply and honestly about where your food comes from will give you a greater appreciation for it. It will also, perhaps, even give you a greater appreciation of all the people that made your delicious meal possible.
4. Use Your Non-Dominant Hand (Or Chopsticks)
If you just can’t seem to slow yourself down, try using your non-dominant hand when eating. Or, you can switch to chopsticks. Both of these techniques will slow you down and force you to pay attention to what you’re eating.
5. Be Aware Of All The Senses
Eating might seem like it’s all about the taste, but it’s not.
Meals are so much more enjoyable when you not only pay attention to how your food tastes, but also to how it feels, smells and even sounds when you are eating it. Notice how the individual flavors come together to make something new and delicious. See if you can discern the balances of the flavors and which one appears more in the over all concoction.
6. Talk It Out
Mindful eating is easy enough to do alone, but what if you’re eating with friends or family? According to Jules Clancy (blogging for zenhabits), one of the greatest joys of eating is sharing a meal with others.
Keeping your mindfulness hat on can be more difficult with other around – but it’s not impossible. Turn the focus of the conversation onto the meal while you are actually eating. Share what you are experiencing in terms of flavors and textures. Explain what you like and dislike about it.
7. Eat With Your Eyes Closed
This one might seem a bit silly at first, but trust me, it works.
Eating with your eyes closed is a simple way to focus more on the flavors and textures of what you’re eating. It can also allow you to envision the story or journey that accompanies the background of your meal. While your mind may be more prone to wander, you can bring it back quickly by opening your eyes and physically focusing on your meal.
8. Do A Check In
In her book Eating Mindfully, Susan Albers recommends periodically checking in on your hunger levels while you eat. Ask yourself: How hungry am I on a scale of 1-10?
Gauging your hunger levels is like taking your temperature. By regularly checking in, you can better manage the amount of food you actually need to put into your body. Be honest with your assessment and verify your real physical level of hungry. Do you just want that second serving because the first tasted so nice? Or is your tummy (and your brain) really asking you for more?