Photo credit: SEE D JAN - Getty Images
Photo credit: SEE D JAN – Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Between balancing work, family, and all the other demands of everyday life, eating can sometimes become very routine. Maybe you have to grab a quick bite while answering emails or just want to relax at the end of a long day and eat dinner in front of the TV. It seems like eating has become a mindless and automatic task. But have you ever taken a moment to slow down and savor your meal? What would happen if you took the time to appreciate every bite?

By slowing down and learning to eat mindfully, you can encourage not only nutritious food choices but also foster a healthy relationship with food and your body. Here’s everything you need to know about mastering mindful eating yourself, including step-by-step instructions and how this technique is a bit different from intuitive eating.

What is mindful eating?

The short definition of mindful eating is incorporating mindfulness practices at all meal and snack times. According to The Center for Mindful Eating, “Mindfulness is the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to one’s experience, in the moment, without judgment. Mindful eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating.” They describe that the technique allows you to become more aware of inner wisdom around physical hunger, satiety cues, and food selection too.

The benefits to mindful eating.

Although mindful eating can be tough to master and doesn’t happen overnight, taking time to bring mindfulness to your meals can provide tremendous comfort and satisfaction. Some benefits of following this technique include that it:

  • Helps you become more in tune with your body: Mindful eating can help shift the focus of control from external authorities and cues to your body’s own inner wisdom.

  • Promotes a healthy relationship with food: By allowing yourself to become more aware of inner physical hunger and satiety cues, this can help guide your eating decisions.

  • Enhances the eating experience: An important mindful eating step focuses on utilizing your senses, allowing you to get more immersed in the eating experience and acknowledge responses to food without judgement.

  • Provides a sense of empowerment: By blocking out external cues and distractions, learning to listen to your body and incorporate mindfulness can help you feel in control and empowered with your food choices.

  • May promote healthy weight loss: By eating without distractions and slowing down during mealtimes, this can lead to natural portion control and giving your body proper time to digest a meal and feel full, which may help with weight management. Research continues to show a beneficial association between mindful eating and weight loss.

Photo credit: Claudia Totir - Getty Images
Photo credit: Claudia Totir – Getty Images

Mindful eating steps:

When it comes to mastering this technique, there are a few steps that can help guide you through mealtime and provide some support for understanding mindfulness when it comes to food.

  1. Examine your hunger and appetite: Hunger is your physiological need for food whereas appetite is your desire for food. Try to examine how your body is feeling at the beginning of a meal; are you eating out of boredom or anxiety? Conversely, have you let your body go too long without food? Slight hunger is okay but anything more severe can make it difficult to slow down and eat mindfully. Commit to incorporating balanced meals throughout the day so you have an appetite at mealtimes but aren’t ravenous.

  2. Start with gratitude: Take a minute or two to pause and appreciate the food in front of you. Choose to be present here and focus on gratitude for your body, this incredible meal and everything and everyone that went in to preparing it. Are you sharing this eating experience with any friends or family? Take a moment to reflect and express your gratitude for them too.

  3. Limit distractions: In order to fully immerse yourself in mindful eating, it’s important to disconnect from electronics and major distractions. Silence your phone, turn off the TV, and sit down at the kitchen table so you are fully present in the meal.

  4. Utilize your senses: Pay attention to the different flavor profiles in your meal and the aroma of the food. How does the food sound when you chew it? Does it feel crunchy or smooth when you take a bite? What flavor notes do you pick up on? Do any of these tastes or textures change as you continuing eating the meal? These are examples of questions you can ask yourself during the mindful eating experience.

  5. Slow down: Take time to chew your food, savor the flavor and appreciate each bite. If you find that you’re still going very fast, try to set your fork down after every few bites. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it’s full. Give yourself time to digest the meal and get in tune with satiety, the feeling of fullness and satisfaction that you get from eating.

The difference between mindful eating and intuitive eating:

Intuitive eating, a concept created by two dietitians based on their work in eating disorder recovery, centers on rejecting the diet mentality and making peace with food. Other principles of intuitive eating include honor your hunger, challenge the food police, discover the satisfaction factor, feel your fullness, cope with your emotions with kindness, respect your body, movement — feel the difference, and honor your health — gentle nutrition.

Both approaches show much overlap and truly complement each other, emphasizing a focus on internal cues to make eating decisions. But mindful eating focuses on awareness and intention by being present in the eating experience, whereas intuitive eating goes a bit broader beyond the eating experience and emphasizes rejecting diet messaging as well.

Mindful eating barriers and resources.

Don’t get discouraged if your first experience with mindful eating doesn’t go as planned. Be patient with yourself; we are constantly inundated with food and nutrition information that it can be tricky to get back to basics and listen to our body. Start small by just focusing on one of the steps listed above, like noting the vibrant flavor and texture of your food or taking a moment to appreciate the meal that made it to your table.

While there seems to be an app for everything, there aren’t many credible well-rounded mindful eating apps to date. Plus, mindful eating requires you to limit distractions and checking your phone isn’t the best idea for that. Instead, it’s best to find a qualified professional such as a Registered Dietitian near you that specializes in the technique to help guide you through the process.

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