Mindless Eating versus Mindful Eating
It’s 3pm and you grab a snack from the vending machine and sit down to enjoy it in front of your computer. Two minutes later, your much anticipated snack is gone, and you don’t even remember eating it! Sound familiar? Ever eat an entire bag of chips and wonder where they went? Or find yourself reaching for food when you are feeling stressed or upset? If you can relate to one of the above situations, mindful eating might be a good tool for you to try. Mindful eating is a broad term that refers to increasing your awareness of food, eating, and other factors that affect your food choices. Mindful eating stems from mindfulness, which embraces the concept of focusing on the present moment.
What is Mindful Eating?
According to the Center for Mindful Eating, a mindful eater is tuned into physical hunger and fullness levels and uses all their senses to savor and enjoy food. A mindful eater chooses foods that are both enjoyable and nourishing for the body. Another important concept of mindful eating, is that there is no right or wrong way to eat. Each person can figure out what works best for them by being more aware of their own food preferences. Being a mindful eater includes being aware of external and internal factors that affect our eating choices. External factors include things like the environment, other people, diet information available online and cues to eat. Whereas, internal factors include thoughts about foods, feelings, stress, fatigue and physical sensations like hunger and fullness levels. Instead of reacting on autopilot to these internal and external factors, a mindful eater is aware of them and responds intentionally based on their needs and desires.
Potential Health Benefits of Mindful Eating
In our fast paced world, most of us fall into mindless eating at some point during the day. However, research is showing that eating slowly while paying attention to the food we eat may have big health benefits. It turns out that how we eat can have a big impact on how much food we eat over all. Studies by Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab show that when people eat mindlessly or while distracted, they tend to eat way more food than they need or want. When it comes to food, mindful eating can help us enjoy food more, and be satisfied with less food. Mindful eating has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety around eating and in treating eating disorders. Mindful eating has also been shown to be helpful in reducing overeating, binging, and emotional eating. Finally, mindful eating may help with digestion, blood sugar control and hypertension.
Ten Tips to Start Eating More Mindfully
- Make eating an event. Sit down to eat at a table for at least 1 meal per day, rather than eating in the car or on the go. Set the table and make it look nice, even if it’s just you eating by yourself.
- Tune out distractions. Turn off the TV, computer, ipad, phone etc. and pay attention to your food while you eat. Same goes for books and magazines!
- Wait until your stomach growls or you have some other sign of physical hunger before you start eating. Differentiating between physical hunger and other feelings such as thirst, fatigue, stress and boredom is key to mindful eating.
- Pre-portion snacks and other foods ahead of time instead of eating straight out of the package or bag. Take advantage of mindful eating by using smaller bowls and plates for meals and snacks to help you automatically eat less.
- Take a mindful bite at the beginning of your meal. Notice the aroma, texture, taste of the food, and any thoughts that pop into your head. Silently describe the food to yourself with as much detail as possible. Take a few deep breaths between bites to help you fully savor your food.
- Eat slowly. Try chewing food more times before swallowing. Put your fork or eating utensil down between bites. Try eating with your non-dominate hand to slow down.
- Ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry?” before eating. Often times we eat for reasons other than physical hunger, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. If you aren’t physically hungry, try an alternative activity, such as drinking water, walking or relaxing with a book or a friend.
- Question negative thoughts about food and yourself. If eating a food makes you feel guilty or anxious, take a step back and try to identify the thoughts behind those feelings. Often negative and judgmental thoughts can trigger anxious and guilty feelings around food and eating. A mindful eater learns to respond thoughtfully to these thoughts instead of reacting to them.
- Leave a bite of food on your plate. This can be really hard for people who grew up in the “clean plate club,” but it is actually a really liberating practice. Leaving a bite of food on your plate reminds you to check in with your hunger and fullness level before you reach for seconds.
- Check out the mindful eating plate by Dr. Susan Albers. The mindful plate reminds you to observe and savor your food, stay in the moment and practice non-judgmental awareness. It’s a great visual cue for mindful eating!
Want to learn more about mindful eating? Call us today at 301-288-1319 to set up an appointment with our Registered Dietitian for personalized nutrition advice to help you meet your health and nutrition goals!