Whether you are looking to lose weight or simply stay healthy, I strongly suggest that you go beyond having a “diet” and think about your relationship with food. This may not sound like fun but the great thing about this week’s topic is that this one is all about improving the quality of your experience when eating. Simply put, mindful eating is another way of enjoying real food more.
To get started, ask yourself a few questions. Are you aware of the thoughts and feelings behind your eating decisions? Can you tell the difference between hunger and a craving? Do you treat eating as an opportunity to nourish your body, or do you see it as a mere distraction that interrupts your day? If those questions piqued your curiosity, then you should apply these seven ways to be a mindful eater.
1. Slow down at the dinner table.
Mindful eaters don’t shovel food down their throat without thought-process. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, your body doesn’t feel satisfied until 15-20 minutes after consuming a meal. If you’ve ever cleaned your plate at a restaurant and felt just fine, but then found yourself with an upset stomach an hour later, this could be the reason why. Below are three actionable ways to avoid overeating:
- Put your fork down between every bite.
- Chew slowly while focusing on the taste, texture, and aroma of your food.
- If you are eating mindfully, you will often be the last person to finish eating.
2. Drink a glass of water before every meal.
The feelings of hunger and thirst are so similar that they are often difficult to distinguish. Mindful eaters don’t let their body trick them into thinking they are hungry when they are actually thirsty. Since research indicates that up to 75% of Americans may be chronically dehydrated, this may well be a significant cause of overeating. If you drink a 12-16 oz. glass of ice water before you eat you will be far more likely to eat only to satisfy real hunger. If water doesn’t excite your taste-buds, simply add a slice of lemon or lime for added flavor. Do not be tempted to drink anything laden with calories or sugar like soda, juice or milk! The idea is just to satisfy thirst.
3. Give yourself an extra five or ten minutes to eat.
Mindful eaters don’t see eating as an inconvenience that distracts them from their day. Instead, they treat eating like an opportunity to nourish their body with quality nutrition that gives them the energy they need to be enthusiastic about their day. Starting tomorrow, give yourself an extra 5 minutes to eat breakfast. Make sure to apply the three action steps I covered in step #1 since these will help you avoid eating past the point of fullness. After a week where you’ve taken this extra 5 minutes, extend your meals by another 5 minutes and repeat this process for lunch and dinner.
4. Avoid the temptation to eat at your desk or on the go.
Mindful eaters don’t cheat themselves out of the opportunity to enjoy their meals with complete focus. Marc David, author of the Slow Down Diet and founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, discusses the cephalic phase digestive response. “Cephalic” is a fancy word for “head,” so think of this like “digestion for your brain.”
Remember how I asked you to pay close attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of your foods earlier in this article? This concept reveals why. Eating while busy with work or absorbed in a television show makes it less likely you will notice the qualities of your food, which robs your brain of its need for pleasure; as a consequence, you could later find yourself in a strange situation where your stomach feels satisfied, but your mouth feels hungry. If you struggle with late-night binge eating, that feeling should sound familiar, and eating mindlessly could be the cause.
5. Begin a food diary to explore why you eat the way you do.
Mindful eaters don’t blindly follow a strict diet without exploring why their current eating habits exist in the first place. As mentioned in a previous article about why diets don’t work, your poor habits didn’t develop out of nowhere; they are a consequence of behaviors that have been repeated over a long period of time. Keeping a food diary will help you figure out why you eat the way and how to change your habits for the better. Buy a notebook (or use the food log on the Alliance web site or mobile app) and record the following details about every meal and snack you consume for a month:
- Your surroundings (restaurant, home, car, work, party?)
- How you feel in the hour or two following your meal (energetic, exhausted, satisfied, stuffed, happy, guilty?)
- A number rating to describe how much you enjoyed your meal (on a scale of 1-10)
6. Be mindful of how different foods affect your mood and energy.
Mindful eaters don’t keep eating things that make feel guilty, exhausted, or sick in the stomach. After a month of recording your meals, perform an honest assessment of how different foods influence your mood and energy. I’m willing to wager you’ll notice that fruits and vegetables make you feel a lot better than processed foods. This realization shouldn’t come as a shock, but seeing concrete evidence of how food impacts you as an individual will make it harder to hide from the truth.
7. Explore the triggers and environments that influence your eating decisions.
Mindful eaters don’t let their emotions, co-workers, or stress levels dictate their eating decisions. Be a detective who searches for clues that reveal the triggers and circumstances that influence your behaviors. For example:
- Are you eating the amount it takes to satisfy your body, or are you eating however much is available?
- Did you really want to eat that pie a friend gave you, or was it just because you didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings?
- Is it possible that you eat particular foods in a misguided effort to make yourself feel better after a stressful day?
It is time to consider the thoughts and emotions behind what you choose to eat. Are you nourishing your body, satisfying a craving or relieving some guilt? Being aware of the difference can make, well, all the difference. Thanks for reading!
About the Author
Daniel Wallen is the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of the Wallen Way. He is a personal trainer, Lifehack contributor, and author of, “The Busy Woman’s Guide to Getting Fit, Fierce, and Fabulous.”