By Cecelia Wilken, Recent ASU Nutrition Student
When was the last time you ate? Maybe a few hours ago? Can you recall what you had? If you’re like most of us in today’s fast-paced society, you probably can’t remember. That’s because, like most of us, we are doing multiple things while we eat; talking on the phone, checking emails, texting, reading or watching the television. We have become disconnected from our meals and as a result, more disconnected from our own bodies. Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist, and lecturer at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health think that this disconnect, this “mindless” eating, has contributed to the obesity epidemic¹. According to her, how we eat is just as important as what we eat.
“The tenets of mindfulness apply to mindful eating as well, but the concept of mindful eating goes beyond the individual. It also encompasses how what you eat affects the world. We eat for total health,” Dr. Cheung¹
Mindfulness can be defined simply as living in the moment. According to the Center for Mindful Eating², when applied to eating, mindfulness includes:
- Using all the senses to experience your food in the moment². Taking the time to savor the flavors, smells, and textures of your meals.
- Acknowledging food as an opportunity to nurture and respect your body. Consciously filling your plate with nutritious and healthful foods that better your mind and body².
- Acknowledging and respecting likes and dislikes without judgement². Feeling free to eat what you like, when you like.
- Being aware of hunger and satiety cues². Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.
Mindful eating has been used in many clinical settings to help treat eating disorders, reduce depression and anxiety and improve overall health and wellness of individuals³. Mindfulness is a tool that has also used to help prevent and treat obesity³. Additionally, mindful eating has been shown to help reduce impulsive eating both in adolescents and adults, which may help impede excess weight gain. At the core, mindful eating focuses on incorporating healthful foods, like whole grains, raw fruits, and vegetables, but the fundamentals can still be implemented to eating whatever you want.
Here are 7 simple steps you can do to incorporate mindful eating into your own life.
- Start with your grocery list.
Focus on adding wholesome and nutritious ingredients to your list. By planning, you can avoid impulse shopping and avoid filling the cart with highly processed foods. When you go to the grocery store, start in the produce section and try to fill most of your cart with fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to avoid grocery shopping on an empty stomach, as this can tempt you to reach for those impulse items.
- Eat when you are hungry, but not starving.
While skipping meals seems like a good idea, especially for those who are looking to lose a few extra pounds. This can have the opposite effect on your metabolism and appetite. Eating well-thought-out and balanced meals throughout the day can help you avoid over-eating and bringing food. We all know that feeling, you’ve waited all day long to eat and now that you can finally sit down, you eat everything on your plate, and then some, in a matter of minutes. You leave the table feeling bloated, uncomfortable and maybe even guilty.
Listen to the cues given by your body. Eat when you are hungry, but don’t wait till you are starving. Additionally, don’t focus on cleaning your plate, stop when you feel full and satisfied. By paying attention to the cues your body gives you, you can provide your body with the sustenance it needs without overdoing it.
- Portion your food.
Not everyone has time to sit down and calculate the exact number of calories and nutrients you need to adequately sustain your body. But there are some tricks you can use to help portion your food better. First, start with a small plate or bowl. Our eyes play tricks on us, and by using larger plates, we tend to eat more needlessly. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Try cutting up meat prior to putting it on your plate. By cutting your food before your plate it, it gives the illusion of larger portions.
- Use your senses.
The entire premise of mindful eating is to live in the moment. Mindful eating encourages enjoyment of the meals we eat. At the beginning of your meals, before you start chatting with those around you, or before you pick up your phone, take 5 minutes to thoroughly enjoy the food in front of you. Use your sight, smell, taste, and touch to savor each bite. Even if it is just a simple salad or granola bar, take the time to appreciate the time and effort it took to bring that dish/food to your hands. Contemplate the ingredients, where they came from, the farmers that grew it, and/or the chefs that prepared it.
Suddenly, a simple salad seems far more interesting and you can feel more appreciative about your choices.
- Avoid multitasking.
When we multi-task we tend to overeat. For example, have you ever gone to the movies and purchased a giant bowl of popcorn? You sit down, watch the opening trailers and before the movie even begins almost half of your popcorn is already gone! When we are distracted it is easier to ignore our own bodies cues about food or other things.
At your next meal, take the first 5 minutes to enjoy and savor each bite. Aside from enjoying conversation with those around you, put your phone away and remove any other distractions (turn the TV off, lower the volume of the music).
- Slow down.
As a society we are always on the move, rushed to complete tasks, always thinking about what to do next. With busy lives, it is hard to slow down enough to enjoy the moment. As a result, we often tend to rush through meals. When practicing mindfulness, slow down during mealtime, chew food thoroughly and take small bites. This not only helps you appreciate your food more, but it also gives your brain time to catch up with your stomach. By slowing down, we can pay more attention to cues from our bodies and stop when we feel full. This helps prevent overeating and helps your body digest food more efficiently.
- Remove the guilt.
We are bombarded constantly with nutrition information. Platforms like social media, magazines, commercials, news stations, even well-intended friends and family have opinions about what we should and shouldn’t eat. Daily headlines often contradict one another and most of us are left confused and overwhelmed by the information. We place rules and guidelines on our diets and feel the need to constantly judge our minds and bodies. Oftentimes, we feel guilty after indulging and chastise ourselves for “giving into temptation”. Studies have shown that mindful eating and incorporating it into family structures can promote confidence and body positive thinking in adolescents⁵.
When we apply mindful eating to our daily lives, we can remove those guilty feelings. There are no rules. There are no strict guidelines to follow. We simply eat what we want, when we are hungry, and stop when we are full. Taking the moment to enjoy that slice of chocolate cake, or burger and fries are no longer met with guilt and judgment but is instead treasured as a delicious treat. By making mindful choices and paying attention to our bodies, we feel more in control of our lives and our diets. We can balance our meals with nutritious choices and indulgent treats in a way that is healthy and purposeful. Listen to your body and if you are concerned, contact your doctor or a Registered Dietician for more information.
You might be thinking, “That’s great and all. But how am I supposed to do that at every meal? All the time?!” I get it, I am no different, as a stay-at-home mom I rarely have the time to sit down to contemplate and appreciate each bite. Many of my meals involve eating leftover pizza crust over the sink as I try to rush my family out the door. There definitely isn’t time for me to appreciate the granola bar I’m stuffing in my face as I drive my kid to school. Instead, I try to focus on practicing mindful eating at least twice a day. In the mornings, I’ll wake up a bit earlier than my family, make myself a cappuccino and bowl of fruit and yogurt and take the time to appreciate every bite. I savor the smell of my coffee, the sweetness of my breakfast, the quiet calmness of the morning. This starts my day off on the right foot and I feel motivated and refreshed to tackle the day.
At dinner, I practice mindfulness by cooking dinner with my 3-year-old daughter. We work together to create healthy and nutritious meals and talk about where our food comes from, we name the colors and shapes we see and when we finally tuck into our meals, we talk about the flavors and textures of our foods. By introducing mindful eating to my own daughter, I’ve found that she is far more likely to try new foods and be excited about dinner time.
For more information on mindful eating, visit www.thecenterformindfuleating.org or for a more in-depth look, consider the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Dr. Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh.
For more information on mindful eating also visit these articles:
What a 16-Year-Old Taught Me about Mindful Eating
Protect Your Children Through Mindful Eating
**The author and the Arizona Farm Bureau are not affiliated with Dr. Cheung or The Center for Mindful Eating
¹ 8 steps to mindful eating – Harvard Health. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-steps-to-mindful-eating
² The Center for Mindful Eating – Principles of Mindful Eating. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/Principles-Mindful-Eating
³Winkens, L., van Strien, T., Barrada, J., Brouwer, I., Penninx, B., & Visser, M. (2018). The Mindful Eating Behavior Scale: Development and Psychometric Properties in a Sample of Dutch Adults Aged 55 Years and Older. Journal Of The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics, 118(7), 1277-1290.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2018.01.015
Hendrickson, K., & Rasmussen, E. (2017). Mindful eating reduces impulsive food choice in adolescents and adults. Health Psychology, 36(3), 226-235. doi: 10.1037/hea0000440
⁵Webb, J., Rogers, C., Etzel, L., & Padro, M. (2018). “Mom, quit fat talking—I’m trying to eat (mindfully) here!”: Evaluating a sociocultural model of family fat talk, positive body image, and mindful eating in college women. Appetite, 126, 169-175. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.04.003