Think While You Eat
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Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word these days. But it is too important and real a concept to be dismissed just because it's trending in our news feeds.
To be mindful is to be fully present in the moment, to pay deliberate (and non-judgmental) attention to our thoughts, feelings, and physical environment. Being mindful is being aware of this exact moment, right now—not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.
Sometimes the inside of our brains can feel like a like a Twitter feed, with thoughts veering off wildly in all directions. It's difficult to focus on the matter at hand, because there are so many other thoughts/ideas/feelings that interfere. To be mindful, we must reel in our thoughts and filter through them, setting aside anxiety over our never-ending To Do Lists or workplace politics (or politics in general!). We can achieve mindfulness when we focus on what we're doing now.
At first, it can be tough to focus on just one task—like anything else, it takes a bit of practice. Meditation is a great way to begin mindfulness training. This might sound daunting, but it becomes easier with time, and there are some great guides and apps out there that can help.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness isn't just for meditation—it can be transformative when applied to day-to-day activities like eating! Mindful eating is an approach that helps us gain control over our eating habits. The technique brings awareness to all aspects of the food we eat, including:
- Visual appeal
Mindful eating brings together what we are eating with how we are eating it. It also helps us become aware of (and break!) bad mindless eating habits we may have established over the years.
Three Steps to More Mindful Eating
The average person eats meals and snacks throughout the day without paying attention to and recognizing what they are consuming. We all do it—we sit down to eat with friends and family or grab something on-the-go, and before we can even think about what we're eating, it's gone.
This style of eating prevents us from truly appreciating and being aware of our food. When this happens, the amount of food and calories we consume can quickly build up without us even realizing it, making it extremely hard to be in control.
Here are a three steps to take toward more mindful eating:
1. NO DISTRACTIONS
Remove yourself from any distractions that may be around you—like phones, email, or work. Try switching your phone to airplane mode, turning off notifications and ring tones. When eating, be present and in a place where you're able to concentrate on the meal or snack in front of you.
2. SLOW DOWN
Give yourself enough time to sit down and enjoy your food. Eat slowly so you can focus on and be conscious of each bite. Many times we race through our meal before our bodies are even aware we're full. Eating slowly allows us to know when we truly feel full. It can enhance the enjoyment of food without the need to overeat.
3. PAY ATTENTION
Purposefully focus your attention on the physical act of eating. Take small bites and notice the smell, the flavor, the texture of the food. Notice, also, the amount of food on your plate and decide what portion size you will actually eat and what you will leave behind or save to eat at another meal.
More Benefits to Mindful Eating
Studies have shown that mindfulness-based approaches to eating can be effective in addressing disordered eating, including binge eating, emotional eating, and eating in response to external cues. While the evidence for its effect on weight loss is mixed, some studies suggest that mindfulness-based approaches may help prevent weight gain (2). Studies also suggest that practicing mindfulness can benefit us by reducing stress and anxiety, as well as improving emotional regulation (5).
A review (3) on this topic found that various mindfulness meditations and exercises improved participants' relationships with food. With increased mindfulness, we can alter our responses instead of staying stuck in the same old behavioral patterns and habits that don't line up with our real goals and needs.
By simply paying attention to what our bodies need—when we are hungry and when we are satisfied—we develop a more natural, balanced relationship with food.
2. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Katterman SN1, Kleinman BM2, Hood MM1, Nackers LM1, Corsica JA3. Eat Behav. 2014 Apr;15(2):197-204.
3. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Obesity-Related Eating Behaviors: A Literature Review. Gillian A. O’Reilly, Lauren Cook, Donna Spruijt-Metz and David S. Black. Obes Rev. 2014 Jun; 15(6): 453–461.
4. Mindfulness and Weight Loss: A Systematic Review KAYLONI L. OLSON, MA, AND CHARLES F. EMERY, PHD. Psychosomatic Medicine 77:59Y67 (2015).
5. Mindfulness -based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Khoury B1, Sharma M2, Rush SE3, Fournier C4. J Psychosom Res. 2015 Jun;78(6):519-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009. Epub 2015 Mar 20.