How to Make Mindful Eating Work For You
Before reaching for the fork, say, “Ommmmmm.” Okay, not really –but eating with awareness and taking a moment before you “dig in” can make a huge difference in how much and even what you eat! Research has shown that mindful eating results in weight loss, reduced food cravings, and consumption of fewer processed foods.1 So take a moment to breathe deep and say a prayer or a few words of gratitude for the food that nourishes your body before you take that first bite.
Here are some steps for mindful eating:
- Assess your hunger. Are you truly hungry? Differentiate between actual hunger and other triggers to eat, such as:
- Stress, anger, loneliness, happiness
- Time of day
- Just because the food is there
- Be present. Plate your food, sit down to eat, turn off the technology, and if you need to, temporarily lock up that smart phone (check out this kitchen safe). Feel your body in the chair and your feet upon the ground. Notice your surroundings and be present. If your thoughts wander throughout the meal, gently bring them back to the present moment.
- Be grateful. Take a moment to appreciate your food. Can you picture where it came from? Imagine the farmer tending to it, the sun and rain helping it grow, the truck driver bringing it to your store or farmer’s market, and the store clerk that helped you just before you brought it home. Understand that this food nourishes your body and keeps it healthy and strong.
- Be observant. Try to enjoy food through all of your senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound.) What color is the food, is it rough or smooth, does it have a smell? Place it in your mouth and feel it’s texture again, what are the different flavors you notice? Is there a sound as you chew?
- Eat slowly. Take the time to really taste and enjoy each bite. Notice how the flavors change throughout your meal. You may learn a lot about foods you thought you loved! By slowing down, you’ll also feel more satisfied with less food. It takes at least 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full, so be patient and give your body the time it needs!
- Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Check in with your tummy periodically throughout your meal. Ask yourself how you feel now and whether you are satisfied or still hungry. Don’t rely on external cues such as lunch “time” or an empty plate to tell you when it’s time to start or stop eating.
- Sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal. Pay attention to how you feel after your meal. Reflect back and be thankful for the food that nourished your body and mind. Notice your level of fullness. A good rule of thumb is the Okinawan principle, “hara hachi bu,” which means, “Eat until you're only 80% full.” If you overeat, you’ll not only feel sluggish, but also increase the odds of gaining excess weight.
- Make it a habit. Follow these steps every time you eat. It takes effort to form new habits, so help yourself by starting slowly. Try implementing these mindful eating principles with just one meal or snack per day, and increase your practice over time. If you have trouble remembering, set a reminder on your phone! Over time you will get so much pleasure out of eating you will want your full attention on your meal.
A growing body of research suggests that by being present while eating, people begin to pay attention to why they are eating and, as a result, often begin to eat healthier. If you have children, teach them mindful eating strategies for children. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, yet too many of us miss it by rushing and multi-tasking during meals. Allow yourself the few moments it takes to practice the above steps and watch as your tastes and eating habits begin to change.
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