Think back through your day so far…were all your meals eaten on the go, maybe in the car or on the subway, were you watching TV, looking at your phone, or maybe eating at your desk while looking at the computer? Before we go any further, I want to point out that I am often guilty of the very same mindless eating in hopes of accomplishing more by multitasking. No one is perfect and these days more than ever, most of us feel rushed with so much to do!
However, there is a lot of evidence that backs up how this “mindless” eating we often engage in is really not as efficient as we’d like to think and instead, we should transition towards a more focused and “mindful” way of eating. Mindful eaters consume fewer calories throughout the day because they really savor their food and they feel satisfied sooner than people who eat when they’re distracted, says Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of Eating Mindfully.
Mindful eaters are actually less stressed about food in general and have a lower BMI than those who don’t practice the technique, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. They also are more adept at recognizing their body’s hunger cues in order to distinguish between true hunger and emotional hunger, which can often be bored eating (um also guilty…I just put away the Kashi cereal and made a cup of tea!). Since mindful eaters are more connected to their true hunger quotient, their system signals when they need to eat and they eat what they need to. This way of eating keeps them more energized so they’re not ravenous by dinnertime.
So what exactly is mindful eating and how can you implement it into your life? It’s a technique that you can totally use anytime, anyplace! Here’s a breakdown:
Listen to Your Body
If you think about your hunger as a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being famished and 10 being stuffed, aim to feel about a 6 when you’re finished eating so that you’re satisfied, but not stuffed. It’s all about connecting with your body and finding that satisfaction sweet spot. Many of us don’t consider ourselves full and done with eating until we’re actually stuffed.
To help figure out when you’ve hit that sweet spot of about a 6, pause throughout the meal to put the utensil or the food down and really gauge where you are. If the food doesn’t taste that exciting anymore, that’s another sign that it might be time to be done. And have no fear if there are leftovers – that’s what to go containers and Tupperware are for! Hooray for leftovers!
Eat with Balance
Oh my favorite word, balance! At every meal, aim to get some protein, fiber, and fat which will not only result in a nutritionally balanced meal but a satisfying one as well. These three ingredients take the longest to break down causing a slower release of energy, thus keeping you fuller for longer. You can get protein from many sources like nuts, meat, fish, beans, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, and poultry. Opt for fibers like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Do not be afraid of fats! Look for healthy fats like avocado, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and olive oils.
If you tend to eat your breakfast on the go in the morning, try to plan just a few extra minutes into your morning to allow yourself to sit down to eat, with silverware, and without the TV or your phone. I give reading a book, newspaper, or article the green light because many people rarely do it, but really try to slow down and think about your food without being distracted. Try to actually taste the food, chew it, and enjoy it. If eating a whole meal undistracted is a bit too daunting at this point, aim for just 3 minutes of mindful eating. Some experts claim this is enough time for your brain to register pleasure and the beginning of satiety.
Be a Food Snob
I typically would suggest against acting snobby in any way, shape, or form but I encourage it in an eating scenario! This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of eating mindfully that can really make a big difference in your diet. Mindful eaters pass up foods that don’t bring them pleasure and won’t eat something just because it’s sitting in front of them. Boom! It’s about reversing the control. The doughnuts your well-intended coworker brought in to surprise the office are not in control of you, they’re just doughnuts. Instead YOU are in control of the doughnuts and you don’t have to eat them. The mere opportunity to eat the food that you truly don’t want or need does not mean that you are compelled to eat it. Think about it, that’s a powerful thought to keep in mind!
Another salient point about mindful eating is that there is no point in eating something mediocre because what’s the point if there’s no payoff? Why eat the treat if it’s not tasty and worthwhile? For example if there’s a cookie at a party that’s ho-hum and isn’t your favorite flavor, then just skip it. No need to eat a cookie just to eat a cookie because it’s there and other people are eating it. But if it’s a freshly baked cookie from your dear grandmother’s recipe book, then it’s perhaps more worth it to have a few bites or even the whole thing if you must. It’s more than worth it to save up for the good stuff when you really want it and you know it’s delicious!
At the end of the day, mindful eating is a set of skills that with practice, will improve. Just like any skill, mindful eating will get easier….practice makes perfect! It’s all about being in tune with your body, listening to it, giving it what it needs, living in a balanced way, and standing up for what you deserve. One last quote I came across the other day that stuck out to me is, “your body is not a garbage can.” So treat it right because you deserve it!
What are some of your favorite practices when it comes to eating? Can you see yourself using mindful eating?
Laissez les bons temps roulez et bonne santé,
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This post was inspired by the My Fitness Pal blog + Shape Magazine’s “A Smarter Eating Style”