We do a whole heap of mindless eating. Sitting in front of the TV, working at your desk, driving in the car — all are hotspots for nibbling just to nibble. It doesn’t stop there.
We wait until we are ravenous to eat, which practically guarantees that we will blow through signals that we are full, causing us to overeat, says Shelley Chapman, health and wellness educator and mindful-eating guru.
How can we become more mindful about what we eat, and what does that even mean? Can paying attention to those “signals” help us lose weight?
Seems so. Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to, or “being present” for, the relationship between eating and our bodies. Simply put, it means paying attention to our food: every aspect of our food choices (we make about 200 per day, according to a Cornell University study), the physical act of eating, and feedback from our bodies.
So maybe you’re thinking “Wait, I’m so busy with other things – what’s in it for me?” Well, it turns out there’s a bunch. Science is clear on the fact that mindful eating boasts both physical and mental benefits. For example, individuals with Type 2 diabetes who participated in a recent study used mindful eating to improve their food choices, lose weight, and lower their blood glucose levels over a six-month period. The practice has also been linked to a decreased tendency to binge eat, and helps to curb stress-related overeating. And with continued practice, mindful eating contributes to sustained weight loss and long-lasting, healthier food choices.
Ready to get started? It’s not very complicated but does require commitment: You must commit to thinking about your food and why you are eating. And then on a consistent basis, carve out time to experience your food. And with apologies to Dr. Seuss and Green Eggs and Ham, not in a car, not in a train, not with a goat, not in the rain (well, maybe in the rain if that’s your thing.)
Here are four tips to help you get started:
- Practice asking yourself, “Why am I eating or about to eat?” “Am I hungry? Maybe I’m tired, upset or just bored.” Ideally, we should eat because we are hungry. Identifying non-hunger triggers can help us redirect energy to more effective activities. Maybe a soothing walk, quick nap or social activity could replace a mindless snack.
- Ask yourself ,”What am I eating?” How did this food find its way to my plate? Where did it grow? How was it processed and prepared? This curiosity not only strengthens connections between food and mind, but is also likely to enhance our purchasing choices.
- Ask yourself, “How am I eating?” Experience your food like a baby eating for the first time. Notice how it feels and smells; explore its taste. Is it sweet? Sour? Spicy? And texture: is it crunchy? Rough? Smooth? No reason to rush through your meal, so relax. Savor this most fundamental act of self-care and nourishment.
- Finally, pay attention to your body’s feedback. Are you satisfied? Need a few more bites? Is this meal sitting well on your stomach or do you feel bloated or otherwise uncomfortable? If you are full but not finished, consider bucking the Clean-Plate Society and step away from your plate. Eat to satisfy your hunger, then stop. And use the intelligence your body and mind supply to make subsequent positive food choices.
Use mindful eating to fully own the relationship between your body and your food. There is nothing to lose except maybe indigestion, guilt and a few inches. No tears there!
Ann McLarty Jackson readily admits she’s never met a carb she hasn’t called friend, and thinks chocolate is its own food group. She remains committed, however, to the joy of a healthy life and constantly searches for the perfect balance between fitness and diet.