Written by: Elizabeth Elam MS, RD, LDN
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. It’s an ancient Buddhist practice that has gone mainstream in recent years. Mindfulness is used in yoga and meditation but can also be a wonderful tool to aid in the enjoyment and satisfaction of food. You may associate mindful eating with eating slower, chewing your food so many number of times, or making sure to sit at a table and use utensils. While these ideas can help you eat more slowly, the concept of mindful eating is so much more than that. Mindful eating is a practice that encourages intention and attention to food and eating. Use the following tips to eat mindfully before you even take your first bite.
Tip 1: Pay attention to your body’s signals
The hunger scale below describes levels of hunger, satiety, and fullness. A certain level of hunger is helpful to truly enjoy food. Think about it… isn’t the first bite so much better than the last? As a practice, mindful eaters assess their hunger before, during, and after a meal. In doing so they learn many things – the timing between meals and snacks that is appropriate for their body, the quantity of food it takes to fill their stomach, and the type of foods that satisfy more quickly or slowly than others. They also recognize which foods make their body and mind feel best. If you’re new to assessing your hunger, choose just one meal or snack per day and assign a number to your hunger before, half way, and after you eat.
Tip 2: Before eating, ask yourself, “Why?”
While its ideal to have a certain level of hunger every time you eat, it’s not always realistic. There will always be meetings, gatherings, or a moment alone where either food is provided, or you seek it out without hunger. Rather than just eating, mindful eaters will simply ask themselves “why?” In doing so, it offers a quick moment to allow the front part of the brain (which facilitates thinking and reasoning) to catch up to the back of our brain (Which reacts by instinct and stimulus). Let’s say a coworker brings donuts to the office. Before rushing (or sneaking!) to the breakroom, take time to ask, “Why am I about to eat this donut?” You may be truly hungry… did you skip breakfast? Maybe it’s been a stressful day and you feel you deserve a break… is this donut just an excuse to get up from your desk? Maybe your answer is, “I haven’t had a donut in a while and these look good!” No matter your response, the question, “Why am I eating?” can uncover habits that lead to overeating or feelings of regret after eating.
Tip 3: Learn to truly enjoy your food
You’ve identified your level of hunger and you’ve asked yourself why you’re about to eat. Without having eaten, you’ve already practiced mindful eating! Perhaps you’re not truly hungry but do really want that donut. The next question to ask is, “How can I best enjoy this donut?” Often, we scarf down foods out of guilt, trying to eat it quickly or secretly in some sort of effort to erase that we actually ate it. Would it not be best to remember eating a treat? That way the next day when you’re offered another treat (because treats are everywhere!), you’re still relatively satisfied from the experience of eating the day prior. So, consider where you like to enjoy the food- outside, on your couch, at the table. Consider what company you’d like to have while enjoying your food – coworkers, a spouse, close friends, maybe you want to be alone. Going back to the donut example, you might find that instead of having this donut at work, you’d rather have it with a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning with your family. Even at this point, when you’re deciding how to eat, you may reconsider eating. You may choose to wait and eat at a time when you can make it an experience and truly enjoy it. And, at last, after deciding the “where” and “with who” of eating, you EAT! You savor your food, noticing how it looks (the color, texture, and shape), how it smells (sweet, savory, acidic), if it makes any sound when you bite into it (crunch, snap, mush), and then how it tastes. You take a deep breath between bites and get the most enjoyment out of that scrumptious morsel!
A registered dietitian is a great resource to help you start or grow your mindful eating practice. If you would like to meet with an Avance Care dietitian, please call (919) 237-1337.