Want to tune into your body and eat less while enjoying more? Start practicing a few of these exercises to become more mindful with your meals.
Let’s face it: Most of us wish we had more than 24 hours in a day. Between juggling work or school, attending to personal relationships, taking care of kids, and trying to find a second to breathe, the pace of life today is extremely busy. When multitasking is the norm, it may feel incredibly difficult to dedicate the necessary time to being mindful about the one thing that keeps us going all day long: eating.
Now, of course, we know you eat. But are you eating in a way that supports your physical health? Below are a few signs that your meal times could use a little bit of mindfulness.
Do you often…
- eat too quickly?
- binge eat?
- eat until you feel sick or overly full?
- forget what you ate at the previous meal?
- Eat in response to emotions?
- finish a meal without registering the taste of your food?
- eat while distracted (phone, laptop, TV, driving, attending to kids, etc.)?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are probably engaging in some mindless eating. So, what’s the big deal? Lack of attention to bodily cues and eating can lead to over-consuming food. Over time, this can manifest in excess weight.
Prevent mindless eating with mindful eating
So, how do we fight the urge to zone out during meals? The answer is pretty simple: mindful eating. And, yes, it’s exactly like it sounds. Mindful eating is the process of applying mindfulness, or bringing non-judgmental awareness, to the bodily sensations and emotions that occur with food and eating.
While mindful eating can take a while to master, it is totally accessible in that you can start eating mindfully to optimize your health today.
Keep reading for 3 effective ways to begin developing your mindful eating practice.
3 ways to infuse mindfulness into every meal
1 – Limit distractions while eating
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing attention to what you are doing in the present moment. So it goes without saying that one of the most effective ways to eat more mindfully is to limit external distractions around meal times. We know, we know, this is a tricky one. But work emails can wait for 20 minutes while you shift your thoughts to the meal you’re about to enjoy.
On the fence about whether distractions are affecting your food intake? Research tells us that distracted eating causes you to eat faster, eat more, and feel less full in response to the food you do eat. You can easily see how being glued to your phone while eating can result in avoidable weight gain.
The research on distracted eating
In a study examining the effects of distracted eating, researchers had two groups of people eat lunch. One group played a computer card game while they ate; the other group ate without any distraction.
Compared to the group who ate without distraction, the distracted participants ate about twice as much food at a snack 30 minutes after lunch. They were also less accurate in recalling what they ate and reported feeling significantly less full. When we eat while distracted, we lose out on the experience of enjoying our food and registering the feelings of fullness. This causes us to eat additional food to satisfy that need.
How to limit distractions
Screens of any kind present as the most pervasive distractions to eating. Research shows that the type of technology we consume while eating doesn’t really matter. Whether it’s checking emails on your phone, watching tv, playing video games, listening to the radio, all screens seem to detract from mindful eating.
Give yourself the best chance to carry out mindfulness at your meals by completely unplugging. Does this principle seems daunting because there are 5000 things on your to-do list? Remember that eating distracted will likely increase your need to consume more later – not very efficient, right? Save yourself the unnecessary calories by giving your food your full attention.
2 – Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues
So many of us are on autopilot when it comes to eating. We eat the same amount of food at the same time everyday out of sheer habit. If you’re serious about incorporating mindful eating into your life, you’re going to have to learn how to listen to the hunger and fullness signals your body sends you each day.
Physiological hunger (i.e. your body needing food to sustain optimal function) signals vary from person to person. However, it often manifests in the following symptoms: Low energy, stomach growling or mild pains, slight shakiness, thoughts of food you can’t shake, headaches, and trouble concentrating. On the other hand, physiological fullness frequently presents as the absence of those hunger signals. It can also feel like plateaued satisfaction from the food, tightness/fullness/slight pressure in your stomach, and feeling more energized.
Be warned: tuning into your body is easier said than done. Due to chronic dieting or following external eating cues such as eating according to the clock, many people have lost touch with the language in which their body communicates. But strengthening this mind-body connection is a worthy pursuit – regaining your ability to feed yourself the right amount of food at the appropriate time is incredibly beneficial when it comes to managing your weight and balancing your blood sugar.
How to tune into your bodily cues
One of the most powerful tools you can utilize to start listening to your body’s needs is a hunger/fullness scale. A scale like this assigns a number between 1 and 10 to your hunger or fullness level. 1 represents the most extreme hunger, while 10 represents the most extreme fullness.
Users can check in with their hunger level before eating, halfway through a meal, and after eating. The goal is to consistently stay between the numbers 4 and 7, that is to eat when you are moderately hungry and to stop eating when you are comfortably full. Many of our clients have found that when they wait to eat until their hunger is between a 1-3, they are much more likely to end up between a 8-10. To add accountability to this process, we suggest keeping a hunger/fullness food diary in which you physically write down the scale numbers you experience with your meals and snacks.
If you need some more help tuning into your body’s cues, check out this post on common habits that lead to overeating!
Fast eating and mindful eating don’t mix
While many find the hunger/fullness scale to be an essential tool in fostering mindful eating, it’ll be difficult to use correctly if you are a fast eater. And there is a physiological reason why: the feeling of fullness after a meal is regulated by signals between your digestive system and your brain. These signals, sent from the GI tract, are produced in response to how extensively our stomach stretches after consuming a meal and the components of digested food reaching our small intestine.
What happens if we eat too quickly and don’t give our bodily network enough time to communicate? The feelings of fullness we should receive from our food will occur long after we finish eating, leading us to consume more than we actually needed to in order to reach satisfaction. In terms of the hunger/fullness scale, a large meal that we eat too quickly may send us into 8-10 uncomfortably full territory.
If you are a speedy eater, try these tangible tips to slow down:
- Put your utensil down and take a deep breath in between each bite.
- Take a sip of your beverage every two to three bites of food.
- Try to get 20-30 chews out of each bite.
- Try to identify the bite in which you no longer receive additional satisfaction from the food you are eating.
3 – Engage your senses, Enjoy Your Meal
Often, due to the quick pace of life, eating can feel like more of a chore than a pleasure. This type of mentality can further exacerbate autopilot eating and lead to a decreased satisfaction and fullness from our meals.
Obtaining maximum pleasure from food is an important component to eating mindfully. In order to do this, we need to engage our senses at mealtime, paying full attention to texture, taste, and aroma. Have you ever polished off an entire plate of food without truly experiencing the satisfaction of a single bite? This principle will be incredibly helpful in reducing mindless eating.
How to really experience your food
Experiencing a meal begins before you put the first bite of food in your mouth. We recommend, as much as possible, eating in a relaxing, pleasant environment. Believe it or not, eating in a pleasant environment is a common strategy used to improve the food intake of cancer patients with reduced appetite. Environment matters! Set yourself up for success by sitting down at a table, removing distraction, and mentally checking into your eating experience.
Before, during, and after a meal, activate all your senses. Inhale the scent of oregano in your tomato sauce. Give gratitude to the bouncy texture of freshly baked bread. Savor the bittersweet taste of dark chocolate on your tongue. You’ll likely find that when you take time to truly enjoy your food, you need less food to fulfill your hunger at that meal and later in the day. Mindful eating observations greatly impact the pleasure you derive from each bite. They also help you to slow down and pay attention to your body’s hunger/fullness signals – win, win!
What we love about mindful eating is that 1) it’s easily accessible – you can start right this second and it doesn’t cost a penny. 2) you can truly improve your health just by slowing down and tuning in.
Now that you know some ways to begin eating more mindfully today, you can begin infusing these practices into your meals and snacks. If you haven’t been eating this way for most of your life, it’s going to take time to be fully present at each eating experience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect to be a meditative eater 100% of the time.
If you eat three meals a day, you have at least 21 opportunities this week to start practicing your skills. To begin this process, we recommend choosing one meal a day to really focus on applying these principles to your life and going from there. Gradual change is sustainable change.
Have you tried any strategies to eat more mindfully? Test a few of these out and let us know what works best for you in the comment section!
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