If I could give one of my top tips for a healthy lifestyle, I would say to eat mindfully. Mindful eating makes eating an experience, rather than a routine.
Have you ever had a time where you were eating and didn’t realize you had finished? This can happen a lot with foods like chips or M&M’s. All of a sudden, the bag is left with a few crumbs. You might wonder, how did that happen? I don’t remember! Unfortunately, this happens to many of us. We eat either out of hunger or boredom without taking the time to give that eating experience our attention.
Mindfulness is a way to “[pay] attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (1). We use mindfulness practices to better manage stress, anxiety, depression, or sleep problems. Additionally, being mindful while eating can come with many benefits.
When we use a mindful approach to eating, our eating becomes more meaningful. We may choose to eat less, choose healthier options, and even enjoy our food more. Additionally, weight loss can be an outcome, if weight loss is the desired goal for you. Whether it is or not, a mindful way of eating is a sustainable way of living. Diets dictate rules, but mindfulness carries freedom.
Steps for mindful eating
- Decide whether you are hungry (this is described more in detail later).
- Sit, nonjudgmentally, looking at your food.
- Smell the aroma, observe the different colors and textures. If it’s warm food, sense the steam warming your chin.
- Take a small bite, unhurriedly.
- Chew slowly, feeling the texture. Are there juices? Is there a crunchy feel? Are there spices that stand out or hide?
- Before swallowing, wait until you have chewed enough to make it liquefy.
- Swallow and see how you feel.
- After each bite, ask yourself how hungry you are, or if you’re hungry at all.
Listening to hunger and fullness cues
As babies, it’s pretty easy to know when they are hungry. They feel their hunger, cry for food, and will stop when they are full. But as we get older, our hunger cues may start to fade. Adults and teens may eat out of emotions, stress, or boredom. It gets easy to repeatedly eat past our fullness. Mindful eating can really bring us back to better recognize these cues.
Am I hungry?
When you feel like eating, whether you’re hungry or not, ask yourself a few questions. Use the acronym SLAB.
- Do I feel stressed?
- Am I lonely?
- Do I feel angry or anxious?
- Am I bored?
Or am I actually hungry? If we are eating out of these reasons, we might want to make another choice that’s more appropriate for that feeling.
Important to remember
On the other hand, if you are hungry, follow these steps.
- Intentionally choose what you will eat.
- Sit down without distractions. Yes, that means without TV, phone, or social media.
- Consider what it took to get that food on your plate, from farming to the grocery store.
- Give gratitude for the food you have.
- Savor that food! Remember the steps for mindful eating.
- After each swallow, notice how your body is feeling. You’ll notice if you’re starting to get full, or if you haven’t had enough. Honor those feelings by acting accordingly.
It can be tough to form this habit, every time we eat. But the benefits outweigh the cost! Learn how to eat mindfully and improve your relationship with food and the eating experience.
- Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living. New York, N.Y, Dell Publishing, 1991
- Nelson, Joseph B. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum, 2017.
- Harris, C. Mindful Eating — Studies Show This Concept Can Help Clients Lose Weight and Better Manage Chronic Disease. Today’s Dietitian, 2013.