Enjoy your food much more and reap the benefits of a healthier diet (and smaller waistline) by slowing down and savouring each bite. In this post, you’re going to learn the definition of mindful eating. This guide also includes lots of useful tips to help you introduce mindful eating into your life.
Whether you’re continually looking for the next great diet, or just want to focus on the foods that will help you stay healthy, minding what you eat is essential. But are you really minding what you eat?
All too often, many of us will sit in front of a screen or in a car and mindlessly munch away. Whether you’re chewing a sandwich or shovelling down a bowl of spaghetti, you’re probably not paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. And that can lead to overeating and, eventually, weight gain, along with other health concerns. In fact, one out of every three individuals in America is obese – a stat that can likely be linked to the bad habit of distracted eating.
Many of us are guilty of eating while we’re at our desks, watching TV or only eating as an actual means to an end and not really paying attention to what we are putting in our bodies or how much we are consuming. As a result, the average daily intake of calories for an American is more than 3,000.
The Definition of Mindful EatingNot paying attention to how much or what you eat can lead to unwanted weight gain Click To Tweet
After all, it’s relatively easy to down a whole bag of crisps. At the same time, binge-watching Netflix or polish off a carton of ice cream as you finish up a project in front of the computer. That’s because your brain doesn’t fully register what you’re eating, so you don’t get the same satiety cues, explains Karen Koenig, M.Ed., a specialist in eating psychology in Sarasota, Florida, and the author of Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register hormonal signals from the gut that it’s full; eat too quickly, and those cues can become garbled.
“When we don’t put attention on what we’re eating, our bodies don’t register satisfaction, which is quality-based, and fullness, which is quantity-based. This makes us more likely to eat more food, more frequently,” Koenig says. “We don’t chew slowly enough to release flavour, and we don’t allow time for food to sit on our tongues so that our taste buds can send information to our brains to let it know whether we’re full or satisfied.”
What is Mindful Eating?
Enter mindful eating; essentially, eating with awareness. At its core, mindful eating means engaging all of your senses as you eat; noting how your food looks and smells, it’s texture, and of course, its taste. Then there’s the process of eating itself, chewing slowly, without distractions like electronics or even reading.
The payoff? You’ll enjoy your meals more, and your waistline will benefit both in the short and long-term. A recent review by the National Institutes of Health showed that mindful eating played a vital role in successfully losing weight and keeping it off, with a direct relationship between mindful eating and the reduction of food cravings, portion control, body mass index and body weight.
Ready to give it a try? For your next meal, try following these six simple rules for mindful eating.
Put Away Your Devices
Mindful eating is about focusing on just one thing at a time, so shelve your to-do list, step away from the computer, put down your phone and close your book before you prepare a meal. Find a pleasant place to eat, whether that’s a park bench at lunchtime or a seat in your kitchen, and let your mind start to focus on the process of eating.
Set a timer to 20 minutes, then take all of that time to eat a normal-size meal. Slowing down makes you more mindful of what you’re doing and really makes you focus on what you are eating, says Faraj. It might help to hold the fork in your non-dominant hand or use chopsticks to emphasise this less hurried pace. You can also try putting your fork down after each bite or taking frequent sips of water to cleanse your palate.
Savour Each Bite
Take a few seconds to examine your food, smell it and savour that first bite as you start chewing. Are you eating something crunchy, like celery? How does that feel in your mouth, against your teeth? Or are you eating something smooth, like yoghurt?
Notice the way it feels against your tongue. Continue to take small bites, chewing well and enjoying the different textures and flavour.
Tune in to Your Body
Halfway through your meal, ask yourself if you are still hungry or whether you are reaching a point of satisfaction where you could stop eating and be okay. Really listen to your body, and stop eating when you feel neutral, not stuffed.
Then think about how you feel when your meal is done. Do you feel bloated or tired after having a plate of fries or half the breadbasket? Does a salad full of fresh vegetables help you feel energised? Listening to your body’s cues after eating specific foods is a critical component of mindful eating, she adds.
Plan Out Your Meals
Know roughly what you will eat for the next few days by planning out your main meals. “Write down what you want to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week,” suggests Rachel Gersten, a New York City therapist and health and wellness coach. “This way, you’ll make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and getting in the right nutrients.”
Avoid Emotional Eating
Stress eating can counter all of the mindful gains you’ve made, so it’s essential to find other ways to combat stress in our lives during the day, Koenig says. Plan your workouts, talk on the phone with a friend, do a crossword, head out for a walk. “Find effective skills to cope with life’s up and downs without turning to food.”
Eating by the Numbers
- 20 minutes; the amount of time it takes to tell your brain that your stomach is full
- 1 out of 3; the number of Americans defined as obese
- 3,600; the average number of calories an American eats in a given day
- 1,600 to 2,600; the average amount of calories recommended per day, based on gender and activity level
Find Your Perfect Portion vs Overeating
“Portion control is a huge part of mindful eating,” says health and wellness coach Rachel Gersten. Measuring out your food and sticking to that allotted portion not only helps your waistline, it will also allow you to better appreciate each bite you take. Follow this guide to keeping your portions in perspective.
- 40g cereal
- 1 pancake
- 85g cooked rice
- 85g meat
- 85g fish
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 spoon of peanut butter
Who is Mindful Eating For?
Anyone can eat mindfully, be in the moment, and pay attention to what it is they’re consuming. You don’t need to be a mindful person or have done any formal mindfulness practice. Anyone can learn this approach to put themselves in the state of being mindful and switch off eating on autopilot. As a beginner, you can learn to induce a mindful state at that moment, and then with practice, you can develop the skill of mindfulness.
Tell-Tale Signs That You Might Not Be Eating Mindfully
- You lack awareness about your eating behaviour in all forms; what it is you’re eating, when, and why you’re eating.
- You especially lack understanding of why you’re eating, because this can link to your relationship with food and emotions.
- You don’t remember what you’ve eaten all day.
- You finish a chocolate bar (or other foods) without even noticing what it tasted like.
- You get to the end of the day and realise that you haven’t had one proper meal; you’ve just been grazing and snacking throughout the day instead.
- You recognise that your behaviours are out of sync with other people, maybe eating in private or not eating at all.
- You’re fearful of foods.
- You eat when you’re not hungry.
Developing the Skill of Mindful Eating Over Time
So how long will it take for you to start feeling the impact and benefits of eating mindfully? And how often should you ideally be practising to develop the trait or skill of mindfulness? Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer because there are many factors at play, such as the amount of time per day/week of practising, the quality of the practice, and the individual’s propensity to learn. Just like learning to drive, we all take different amounts of time to learn new skills.
Recent research in workplaces where mindfulness is being trained and practised has identified benefits from practising ten minutes or more a day over eight weeks. Psychologists argue on the length of time it takes to develop new habits, but most think it’s between 30 and 90 days.
This is a great starting point for practising mindful eating, and you should start to see benefits after eight to twelve weeks if you’re practising for at least ten minutes a day. But view mindful eating as a lifestyle change and an ongoing commitment. Training and rewiring your brain is just like training your body to change; it takes time and requires continual attention and practice. Just as with exercise, you might face a relapse where you’ve got a hectic period at work, with no time to prepare healthy food, so you grab a sandwich at lunch and a takeaway for dinner.
That turns into two or three days, and you forget the importance of healthy eating or your mindful-eating practice, so everything takes a downward spiral. It’s okay! We’re human beings, and life happens, so don’t judge yourself and beat yourself up. Show yourself some compassion, treat yourself like you would your best friend and just start again when you can.
Explore what triggered you to stop so you can watch out for those signs in the future. Recruiting a friend to help and support you is always really helpful; someone you can rely on and give you moral support when these times happen.
Thank you for reading my article on the definition of mindful eating. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, add them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.