Mindful Eating 101

Being mindful is one of those things you always hear about (‘cause Oprah’s doing it, y’all!), and if there’s one place I think it’s especially important, it’s when it comes to eating.

But what does mindful eating mean, anyway? Is it staring really hard at your food? Is it counting the grams of sugar and carbs in your every bite? Or writing down all of your feelings every time you eat a cookie?

Kind of, but not really.

Mindful eating encompasses a number of factors, which I’ll talk about below, but really it all comes down to you being present in your body and noticing how your body and food are interacting.

Here are some components of mindful eating, with tips on how to bring them into your relationship with food ASAP.

  1. Notice, without judgement, if you’re hungry or not. Depending on your history of dieting, your hunger may be a distant memory to you. Are you used to just eating when you’re “supposed” to, regardless of whether or not you’re actually hungry? Or maybe you eat no matter what the occasion, and override or ignore any and all rumblings of hunger.Part of the reason the “without judgement” part is so important to this equation is because our lifelong eating habits have probably been shaped by the idea that we always have to be eating the “right” way or we “shouldn’t” be hungry after 7 pm (or whatever else a diet guru told you).

    Begin to check in by noticing if you have any physical symptoms of hunger, and whether you do or don’t, just be interested in the information, rather than upset or disappointed, regardless of your actions.

  1. Notice how the food you’re eating tastes throughout the meal (beginning, middle, and end). We get tricked into the idea that a gigantic slice of chocolate cake is better than a small slice of chocolate cake because we think more = better. When it comes to staying mindful, though, you may notice that food just doesn’t taste as good after the first few bites, even if you really, really want it to. Staying tuned into the flavors of your food also keeps you in the present moment, which is a key component of mindfulness.
  1. Pay attention to how the food makes you feel, both physically and mentally, in the present moment and later. Ask yourself, “does this meal make me feel heavy and weighed down?”, “Do I feel mentally foggy?”, “Do I even like this food?” etc. When you’re practicing mindfulness, you don’t skip a serving of deep fried mac and cheese because you’re dieting and “being good,” you skip it because you know it will sit like a rock in your stomach and cause you to be drowsy all afternoon.
  1. Pay attention to when your body says, “Stop, please.” Sometimes your body’s signals are really subtle, especially if you’ve been ignoring them for a long, long time. Just check in and see what your body is telling you, and eventually it will become habit.

Mindfulness can feel like a lot of work. You can’t just grab hunks of cheddar and leftover roasted chicken straight from the fridge and eat it over the sink while you answer texts and yell at the dog anymore. You have to actually make time and space for you and your needs, and it’s entirely worth it.

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