Think about the last good meal you had.
Did you savor each bite? Or was it gone in two seconds? Were you really present during that meal?
Often we finish our meals in a hurry because we’ve got another meeting coming up or we’re distracted by good company. You might even find yourself eating by yourself with your thoughts completely elsewhere.
While we can appreciate the taste, health benefits, and even appearance of our food; most of us don’t really pay attention to how we eat our meals.
However, it can be just as important and beneficial to be truly mindful of our eating habits.
The practice of mindfulness is simply to practice bringing your whole attention to the present moment. You can practice mindfulness through meditation or breathing, and now you can also bring mindfulness to eating.
Why Try Mindful Eating?
The practice of mindfulness has many benefits such as reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, and decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression. The good news is that mindful eating has shown to have it’s own set of benefits as well.
Stops Unhealthy Eating Habits
The modern world is fast-paced and full of distractions. The introduction of TV dinners in the 1950’s helped normalize eating while in front of a screen. Most of us probably don’t even spend the full lunch hour just eating and resting.
Additionally, many of us are conditioned to eat for comfort. So when we’re feeling sad, we reach for that extra helping of mac and cheese or slice of cake. This feels good in the short-term but it might not help in the long run. It’s not bad once in awhile but when we start associating food as the only way to achieve happiness, we can become dependent on it.
Eating mindlessly prevents us from truly recognizing what our body needs. Bad habits like binge-eating, overeating, and skipping meals can be a result of mind-wandering.
Eating mindfully has shown to reduce a number of those negative eating behaviors.
By choosing to slow down and really be present with each bite, mindful eating helps you distinguish between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
Mindful eating also helps with impulse eating which is a result of emotions (again) and external environmental-cues like the sight or smell of food. (Study)
By practicing mindful eating, you’re back in control of your responses instead of acting solely on reactions. You’ll become more aware of your negative behaviors and transform them into much healthier, beneficial habits.
Mindful Eating & Weight Loss
When we start listening closely to our bodies, we can find out what we really need. Most of the time, what we eat is more than the amount we really need but our brain or emotional comfort might tell us to keep going.
Mindfulness allows us to slow down and let our body catch up to our brain which is why mindful eating has been linked to weight loss.
In one study, a group of obese individuals showed an average weight loss of 9 lbs after starting to practicing mindfulness. Not only that, they kept the weight off after a 12 week follow up.
Another study resulted in an average weight loss of 26 lbs and the group also saw no regained weight after 3 months.
When you slow down and become mindful each bite, you’re not only enjoying the food more, you’re consuming the right amount of food.
Prevents Binge Eating
Similar to how mindfulness creates weight loss, mindfulness has a positive impact on the negative habit of binge eating.
Binge eating results from a lack (or ignoring) of self-control while eating. This behavior has been linked to eating disorders and weight gain. It’s an unhealthy habit that can develop when we don’t think about how we consume food; instead of relying on physical hunger cues, we are relying on emotions or other external influences.
Mindful eating is a way to regain that self-control and keep emotions in check. For a group of obese women, mindful eating helped them decrease their binge eating frequencies from 4 times to just 1.5 times per week.
On top of that, mindfulness also decreased the severity of binge-eating episodes.
Mindful eating trains both mind and body to be aware of needs versus wants and how to cope with those habits in a healthy manner.
How to Incorporate Mindful Eating in Your Routine
The benefits of mindful eating make it easy to decide to start this practice. The tough part is finding time to do it. Mindful eating means eating slowly, in silence, with no distractions. In fact, many practitioners recommend putting down the fork after each bite so you can chew thoroughly and purposefully.
For most of us, a 30 minute lunch break feels like not enough time to practice mindful eating. For others, it might be hard to eat in silence.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help adapt mindful eating practices for your lifestyle.
Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment. One way to do that with eating is by eating slower. Eating slower means taking time between each new bite and chewing slowly. If you have more than one type of food on your plate, try eating the parcels separately.
Taking a breath between each bite can help you pace yourself between each scoop. Make a conscious effort to chew more; perhaps even setting a goal of chewing at least 20 times per bite.
Slowing down is the best way to let your body catch up to your brain. Your body can then signal the brain that it’s full.
Mindful eating really starts with slowing down. It’s a simple thought but tough to follow especially when we’ve been conditioned otherwise. But it’s very possible and very beneficial. Each following step is really another way to help you slow down.
Take a Moment of Silence
Eating in silence is pretty difficult with all the modern technology. But eating in silence can help keep your mind on your food.
So try silencing your phone or even placing it in a separate room. If you usually eat in front of the TV, turn it off and sit at a table. Instead of a screen, observe your plate. Enjoy the peace and quiet.
This step can be especially hard for people who have families or never eat alone. Meals like lunch or dinner are usually great for chatting with loved ones. If that’s the case, try eating quietly for the first or last 15 minutes of your meal. Or if they’re feeling adventurous, invite your loved ones to take a moment of silence with their food. It may help them appreciate the meal even more.
Savor the Flavor
Though it may seem inconvenient, putting your fork or spoon down after placing a bite of food into your mouth is a great way to train yourself to focus on chewing. Not only that, your whole attention is on the portion you’ve just placed in your mouth. You’re not worried about picking up the next scoop.
Savoring the flavor of your food means really observing the unique taste of each bite. Try and pinpoint the spices; you don’t have to know what they are, just be aware of each different one.
You can also pay attention to the texture of your meal. Roll it around in your mouth. Think about how you would describe the flavors and texture to a friend.
With each mindful scoop, you might even find new flavors and textures in your favorite meals.
Be Aware of Your Food’s Lifecycle
With trends like farm to table and organic food, it’s become easier to find out where you food comes from. Being aware of your food’s lifecycle is a great to becoming more mindful with each meal.
You don’t necessarily need to know what farm or how your food got to where it is now, it’s more important to think of your food’s journey from small seed or egg to a delicious entree on your plate. Even something simple as thinking of how your bread was baked is bringing mindfulness to your meal.
Being aware of your food’s journey will help you gain a deeper appreciation for each morsel.
Consider Your Environment
One of the easiest ways to bring mindfulness eating into your daily routine is to consider where you eat.
How many times have you had lunch at your desk? How about having breakfast standing up? Or dinner in your living room?
Your environment plays a big role in manipulating how you feel and think. Eating at a desk makes it tough to feel relaxed and to focus on your food. Same thing goes for eating standing up or while watching a TV show.
Distracted eating leads to overeating because you aren’t paying attention to your food or body, you’re paying attention to external stimuli.
So, changing your eating environment might require effort but it will be helpful in the long run for practicing mindfulness. Instead of your desk at lunch, move to the office break room. Instead of on the couch, try using the dining table.
Your environment also goes for food packaging. If you’re eating leftovers, don’t eat from the container. Take some time to place it on a plate.
When you’re done eating, make sure to place the food in cabinets, pantries, or the fridge so you signal your body that you’re truly done with the meal.
Limiting the food to the kitchen and dining room is a mindful practice that helps prevent mindless eating, stress eating, or eating while multi-tasking.
We have a tendency to reach for food if it’s there, even if we aren’t hungry. But making a point to separate your eating environment from your living environment is a great way to break bad habits.
You don’t have to do all of the steps to gain some of the benefits of mindful eating. We can take these steps and develop a mindful eating practice that fits our unique lifestyles.
As with all new habits, mindful eating takes practice and patience. But the closer you get to truly practicing mindful eating, the better your body and mind will feel.
Mindful eating retrains us to have a healthy relationship with food which is something we all need in our fast-paced world. On top of that, mindful eating helps us slow down our mind so it can truly listen to the body.
The action of eating food is an enjoyable and necessary act. By adding mindfulness to it, eating can also be a great time to recharge.