All too often we find ourselves eating without even thinking. The physical act of eating a meal has lost importance in our rapidly moving society, and all too often is rushed and hasty. When is the last time you actually sat at a table, removed all distractions, and thoughtfully ate a nutritious meal? For most, pinpointing this moment may seem impossible. Between the drive-through, working through your lunch break, taking your children to an endless list of activities, and crashing on the couch at 8:00 pm, it becomes difficult to find time to accomplish such a task.
In the midst of this chaos is a body yearning for a nutritious meal; a meal not eaten while driving, on a conference call, or worse yet missed completely. When we rush through the eating process, portion control is non-existent and the ability to make nutritious food choices is obsolete. This thoughtless process leads to excess caloric intake, weight gain, and an overall loss of control.
One of the first steps in taking back control of your nutrition and eating is to become more mindful. But what does mindful eating really mean or even look like? Mindful eating is being more aware of your eating habits, the sensations you experience when you eat, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about your food. It is more about how you eat than what you eat.
Remove the Distractions
Studies have shown that watching TV while eating can promote mindless eating. Intently watching your favorite show leaves little time for awareness of portion control. Do not multi-task; turn off the TV, and remove all other distractions that mentally lead you away from focusing on your eating.
Set your place with everything you need to eat your meal. This includes a plate, fork, knife, spoon, napkin, and glass of water. When you have arranged all that you need, sit down and remain seated for the duration of your meal. Do not eat while standing, walking around the room, cooking, or looking into the refrigerator. Staying in one place will help to focus on the task at hand: enjoying your meal.
Eat With Your Non-Dominant Hand
Eating with the non-dominant hand forces you to slow the rate at which you eat. Eating unhurried will increase your awareness of when you become full. When you eat too quickly, the stomach does not have enough time to send the signal to your brain to convey satiety, leading to overindulgence and potential weight gain.
Pause Between Bites
Between each bite, set your fork down and focus on what you have just eaten. How did this food feel in your mouth? What did it taste like? Did you enjoy it? Are you still hungry? After you have answered each question, take a sip of water and continue to eat if you are still hungry. Pausing between bites gives you and your body time to realize what is happening. Continue this pattern until you are satisfied, not until your plate is empty.
Save Your Favorite Food for Last
Our minds often have the strongest memory of our most recent activity. Save your favorite part of the meal for last. If you enjoy your last bite, the urge to have something sweet after you have finished will subside.
The reality is, we eat for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we eat to stay alive. We eat to support and sustain bodily function. This is what hunger pangs tell us.
But, don’t we also eat because…
- It’s noon and that means lunchtime?
- We have dinner plans with friends?
- We have a craving for the chips that are in the cabinet?
- We feel like it?
- We’re bored/tired/stressed/sad?
Judith S. Beck, a behavioral therapist, explores these reasons for eating in her book, The Beck Diet Solution. I’m not always a fan of diet books, but I liked Dr. Beck’s because she doesn’t actually give nutrition and food advice, but behavior advice. She breaks down eating cues into five major categories.
- Biological - We eat and drink to support the biological processes of life. Hunger pangs alert us to this, and drive us to eat. In an ideal world, this would be the only reason we eat. If we all only ate when we genuinely felt hungry, keeping a healthy body weight would not be an issue. But alas… see below.
- Environmental - We eat because we see or smell food. (Commercials! Driving past Dunkin’ Donuts! Pastries in the office kitchen!) Food is everywhere in our society. On one hand, we are lucky to have a food abundant environment, but this makes saying No extremely difficult.
- Social - We eat because we are around people who are eating or we are offered food. We all have those food bullies or diet saboteurs in our lives. “Oh come on.. just try it! One won’t kill you!”
- Emotional - We eat because we feel stressed, anxious, sad, lonely or bored. (This would be the quintessential post break-up pint of ice cream). Some people eat when they feel happy or excited.
- Mental - We eat simply because we are thinking about a food. We might realize its mealtime and think it’s time for food, even if we don’t feel hungry yet.
So, now what? First, get to know yourself and your eating habits. Tracking, or keeping a journal, is always a great place to start!