Four Tips for Eating Mindfully
Mindless eating can lead to overeating and digestive woes. But when you eat mindfully, you tend to slow down and eat less – just enough so that you’re comfortable, not stuffed.
Even if you’ve never heard the term “mindless eating”, chances are good that you’ve experienced it. Can’t remember what you ate for dinner because you were so focused on the television show you were watching? That’s mindless eating. Ever finish an entire bucket of popcorn at the movies and ask yourself, “did I really eat all that?” That’s mindless eating, too.
What Happens When You Eat Mindlessly?
Mindless eating is what happens when you eat – and overeat – without really thinking about it. When you eat mindlessly, you don’t ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, or question whether your portion is too large, or if the food even tastes good to you. You just eat it. And that’s because you’re not paying attention to your body’s internal signals – like the ones that tell you that you’re hungry, or when you’re comfortably full. Instead, you’re responding other cues push you to eat and overeat. Maybe you’re stressed or anxious or bored, or you eat something that’s offered to you – even though you’re not hungry at all.
Mindless eating often leads you to take in a lot more calories than you should – and you may eat much too quickly, too. You may not chew your food thoroughly, which means you’re probably swallowing a lot of air while you’re gulping it down. And, during an episode of rapid-fire overeating, you may not immediately realize how full you are. That’s because it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to let your brain know that you’re full – and by that time you’ve already overdone it. So it’s no wonder that discomfort – in the form of indigestion or bloating – can set in.
So what would happen if you turned “mindless eating” around, and practiced more “mindful eating” instead?
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is just what it sounds like. When you eat mindfully, you try to become more aware of your internal signals of hunger and fullness – which means really listening to your body. You become more in touch with the eating experience – which means you’re likely to enjoy it more while eating less.
Mindful eating means slowing yourself down and taking the time to appreciate how the food looks on the plate, how it smells, and how it tastes. If you’re with others, you take pleasure in their company – and if you’re eating alone, you take pleasure in being able to focus on your meal and enjoy it without distraction. The other benefit? By slowing down, you’ll learn to be satisfied with appropriate portions – which will help curb the tendency to overeat – and your digestive system won’t be overburdened. Not only will this help keep your calories in check, but it gives your system time to properly digest your meal, too.
How to Eat More Mindfully
- Be mindful of why you eat. One of the first steps in eating mindfully is to become more aware of what triggers you to eat in the first place. Are you hungry? Tired? Anxious? Bored? While you’re noting that, also, rate how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 5 – where 1 means “not hungry at all” and 5 means “I’m starving”. After a week or so, examine your patterns. If you often eat because you’re stressed – even though your hunger level is a “1” – you’ll want to find alternatives to eating to relieve your stress – like taking a walk, or calling a friend, or maybe practicing some deep breathing.
- Be mindful of how much you eat. While you’re making note of why you eat, also make a note of how full you are after you’ve finished. Practicing portion control helps you to learn how much food it takes to satisfy your hunger – which might be a lot less than the amount you want to eat. Since we tend to eat whatever amount we’re served, start by serving yourself smaller portions than you usually do. And, learn to stop eating when you’re comfortably full – even if it means leaving some food on your plate.
- Be mindful of how quickly you eat. Mindless eaters tend to eat quickly, so also make note of how long it takes you to eat a meal. If it takes you less than 10 minutes, make an effort to stretch it out to 20 minutes. Try putting your utensils down between bites, and practice chewing and swallowing each bite of food before loading up your fork with another bite.
- Be mindful of how you eat. Are you eating on the go, or at your desk while you work, or while you’re watching television? If you are, it’s unlikely that you’re paying much attention to your meal, and more likely that you’re just gobbling it down. Instead, try to be mindful of how you eat, and take the time to sit down and enjoy your food. Put down a placemat, turn on some music, maybe even dim the lights. Relax and take your time – your digestive system will thank you.