Do you ever find yourself eating a whole bag of chips or a package of cookies and then wondering where it went, not remembering having just eaten it? We often go on “autopilot” in many of our daily activities, not noticing what we’re doing when we’re doing it because our minds are so busy with other things. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on autopilot, it’s eating with intention while paying attention.
Born from the concept of mindfulness, defined as being fully present in the moment, non-judgmentally. Mindful eating is being fully present in the experience of eating including the tastes, smells, origins, bodily hunger, thirst cues, thoughts and feelings that encompass each moment of a meal. It’s a tool everyone can incorporate into their daily eating habits to create a healthier relationship with food and your body.
Mindfulness can help us amplify our bodily cues so we shift out of eating on “autopilot” and become more aware of our hunger and thirst cues, allowing us to break away from routine eating patterns.
By examining and understanding our thoughts and feelings that affect how, what and why we eat (or choose to not eat), mindful eating has been shown to help:
- Reduce overeating and binge eating.
- Lose weight and reduce Body Mass Index (BMI).
- Cope with eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia.
- Reduce anxious and unhealthy thoughts toward food, eating, and body image.
- Improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Fully experience your meal
Practice these mindful eating tips to truly eat with intention:
- When you are eating, just eat. It can be challenging to make eating a priority, as it is sometimes seen as “just something I have to do.” When possible, sit down to eat, limit distractions and avoid multitasking. Avoid eating while watching TV, talking on the phone or driving, as these behaviors contribute to mindless eating and overeating. When you feel hungry or have an urge for a snack, take a break so that you can devote 100 percent of your attention to eating.
- Take mindful bites.When you are eating, bring all of your senses to the table and your plate. Take mindful bites and focus all of your awareness on the tastes, smells and textures of your food. Truly taste each bite from the start to finish. For example, breathe in the aroma of an orange or a piece of chocolate; enjoy the simple and complex textures of vegetables in your mouth. Spend time truly tasting and savoring your food.
- Pause and Breathe.It may sound simple but by pausing and taking a few slow, deep breaths before you eat, you can reduce stress and tension, while promoting relaxation. Stress often leads to unhealthy eating patterns in a majority of people. Stress can lead to poor food choices and overeating, which contributes to poor digestion and metabolizing nutrients, increased blood sugar and blood insulin levels, weight gain, increased risk of diabetes and you’re more likely to eat more than you intend. When your body is more relaxed and less stressed your stress hormones (cortisol) are more balanced which allows your food to metabolize and digest properly.
- Cook with love and eat with gratitude. Take a few moments to feel grateful for where your food came from (e.g., farm, garden, animal) and be grateful for the entire process your food went through to get to your plate. Express gratitude to who prepared the food and how it was prepared.
- Be attentive to hunger cues. Shift out of eating on autopilot and ask yourself, “How hungry am I on a scale from one to 10?” Mindfully check in with your hunger level before you sit down to eat as well as in the middle of the meal. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” “Is it physical or emotional hunger?” Emotional hunger tends to be triggered by stress and we suddenly demand food – right now. Continue to be mindful of how you feel throughout your meal. Individuals who are more attentive to hunger cues tend to leave their meal feeling more satisfied and are less likely to overeat or under eat. Follow the Confucian teaching, “HARA HACHI BU” which means “eat until you’re 80 percent full.” When you’re two-thirds of the way through your meal, ask yourself, “Am I still hungry?”
- Mindfully check in. Pay attention to how you feel during and after each meal. Food often affects our mood. Some foods make you feel more sluggish while other types of food provide energy. Building awareness of how foods affect how you feel, both physically and emotionally, can contribute to making healthier food choices. It may be helpful to keep a food journal to track what you eat and how you feel after the meal to increase your awareness of how food affects your mood.
- Use mindful language.Your thoughts, food judgments, and the language you use about food, perceptions of your body, and what you choose to eat are fundamental to how you feel before and after you’ve eaten, as well as to your self-esteem. Everyone has a relationship with food and it is important to keep in mind that the words we use might affect how we feel about our own body and how language affects other people. Pay attention to your relationship with your body and food by observing negative thoughts and how they may trigger overeating or prevent you from adequately feeding your body. Speak non-judgmentally and compassionately and most importantly, be gentle and kind with yourself.
Mindful eating is a life skill
Mindful eating can make a difference in what you choose to eat, how you eat and how you look at your life. It can help reduce weight, decrease patterns of over eating, decrease negative thoughts about food and body image, as well as improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Mindful eating can be vital to caring for your body and your mind.
Cook with love and eat with gratitude. Share conversations around the dinner table with your family about what you’re grateful for in your life, as well as the food that provides nutrition to your body. Pause and savor the experience of sharing food and the experience of eating together. Gratitude is a rewarding skill that all ages can participate in around the dinner table.
Eat mindfully during holidays
Practice mindful eating during holidays and immerse yourself in the present moment, participating fully with friends, family, traditions and rituals. Savor each bite and the important moments of your life.
References and Information to Learn More About Mindful Eating
Mindful eating and mindfulness services are part of North Memorial Health’s Mental Health & Addiction Program. To learn more, call 763-581-5372. Skills groups focus on coping with life changes, stress, illness and grief, all while achieving balance. Nutrition counseling is also available.
To learn more about mindful eating, visit cmbm.org, eatingmindfully.com or thecenterformindfuleating.org and check out these books: Eating Mindfully, by Susan Albers, Mindful Eating, by Jan Bays and Savor. Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung.
Learn more about North Memorial Health’s Mental Health & Addiction Program