There is no doubt that we all take the experience and joy of eating our food for granted. We have become easily distracted and out of touch when it comes to mealtimes. Our health is affected by our emotions and we are more likely to overeat and binge eat when we are upset, lonely or angry than if we are in a calm and relaxed state of mind. By taking some time to be more present with our food and ourselves it allows us to become more mindful and more aware of the pleasurable experience it can be.
Mindful eating is a skill that promotes an enjoyable, healthy, flexible and relaxed eating practice. It is deliberately paying attention and being fully aware of what is happening both internally and externally when consuming food.
Often people will overeat without even being aware that they are doing so. They eat too much because they are snacking on a large bag of chips, they have been served a heaping plate of food, they’re watching television while they eat or any number of external cues that actually have nothing to do with hunger. Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University calls this type of eating “mindless eating” and he and other researchers have demonstrated the many ways that our environment can trigger us to simply eat too much.
Over the past few decades, portions sizes have grown, in restaurants, grocery stores and in homes. These larger portion sizes lead us to unconsciously redefine what a “normal” portion size is and also makes it harder to gauge how much we are truly eating.
If you feel that you have fallen into the habit of eating with your eyes rather than your stomach or if you find that you are mindlessly eating, consider these tips to help mindfully monitor your eating:
1. Be grateful.
Take a moment to sit with your food before you take your first mouthful and allow yourself to really think about what is on your plate and to be grateful for what is in front of you.
2. Take a deep breath.
Deep breathing before taking your first mouthful helps to calm the mind and allows you to be in tune with your body. Being calm and relaxed will help your stomach and brain communicate allowing them to signal when you are full. This will help to eliminate the possibility of overeating or binge eating.
3. Enjoy the experience.
Remove all distractions such as your phone, TV, magazines, computers, and newspapers during mealtime. Allow yourself to focus on nothing but your food and the experience.
4. Slow down.
Take small bites, chew food thoroughly, and put down utensils in between each mouthful. Using smaller spoons and forks or using chopsticks (especially if you are not accustomed to using chopsticks) may help train you to take smaller bites. The delay in between each mouthful helps the stomach and brain communicate to let you know when you are full. Chewing your food thoroughly aids in digestion and puts less strain on the stomach and intestines.
5. Downsize your dishes.
Using smaller plates, bowls and serving spoons may help you to downsize your portions thus reducing the possibility of mindlessly overeating.
6. Choose a better snack.
If you mindfully decide to answer your body’s call for nighttime munchies, choose fresh fruits and vegetables. They are packed full of fiber and nutrients that will fill you up quickly and they come with fewer calories than a bag of chips.
7. Drink plenty of water.
Hunger may actually be a sign of dehydration so aim to drink 2-3 liters of water daily. If you feel as though you want to eat just for the sake of eating or to try and combat your boredom, try focusing your attention elsewhere. Read a book, go for a walk, call a friend or take a bath. Reframe and change your state of mind, chances are you really don’t need that chocolate bar.