Nutrition experts often recommend mindful eating as a healthy eating strategy. Studies have shown it can address binge eating and emotional eating, and in some cases help with weight loss. But not everyone understands what it is.
Mindful eating encourages people to be more intentional about the types of food they eat and how much they consume. It helps people recognize triggers that might lead them to unhealthy choices – like mindlessly munching on a bag of chips while binge-watching a favorite TV show, or eating a pint of ice cream after a bad day at work.
Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism. The term was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the original developer and leader of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
The practice of mindfulness has been shown to help manage chronic pain, disease, depression, sleeping problems and anxiety. It also improves digestion, helps regulate eating patterns and promotes a better enjoyment and appreciation of food.
Mindful eating focuses on a sensual awareness of the food. It involves paying close attention to what you are eating, savoring each moment, each bite. Listening to your body’s hunger cues also is important. The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although that can be a byproduct of the practice. Rather, it is meant to help promote healthier eating behaviors.
• Before reaching for food automatically, stop and ask yourself, what you are feeling? Are you actually physically hungry or are you stressed, sad or feeling lonely? If you are not physically hungry, do something else to feel better.
• Don’t allow a lot of distractions while you eat. Turn the television off and put away your phone. Just focus on eating so you savor each bite.
• Chew slowly so you can appreciate all the textures and flavors. It takes your body about 20 minutes to determine if it is full, so chewing slowly makes it easier to read your body’s natural hunger cues. So even if your brain is signaling that you want another scoop of pasta, wait to see if your body really needs it.
• Check in with your body throughout the meal to see how you are feeling. Are you still hungry? Do you want more? If you are feeling full, don’t keep eating just to clean off the plate. Save any leftovers for later.
• Be intentional about the types of food you consume. Make healthy food choices a priority when shopping and organizing your kitchen. Keep healthy snacks handy for when you get the munchies.
• Show gratitude for the food and all who were involved in the growing process and production – all the way from the sun and soil to the person who prepared the food for you.
• Keep meal and snack time a nonjudgemental zone. Mindful eating doesn’t mean you will never eat junk food again. No one can expect to be perfect all the time. What is more important is to recognize the underlying motivations for your food choices and to develop a healthier relationship with food.