What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is the act of creating awareness of the food and beverages you are putting into your body while acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations surrounding taste, satisfaction, and fullness. Mindful eating involves: (1) using and recognizing all of your senses to find pleasure in your food, (2) chewing, swallowing, & savoring each bite, and (3) having a non-judgmental awareness of external & internal cues influencing the desire to eat, food choice, the quantity of consumed, and the setting in which food is consumed.
When you are more closely in tune with your internal hunger cues as well as your external environment, you can better control portion sizes, know the exact moment you are satisfied from eating, and better manage your weight.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
- A non-diet, non-judgmental approach to eating
- Increases awareness of portion sizes eaten to reduce likelihood of overeating
- Reduces stress & alleviates health problems
- Enhances the entire eating experience
- Helps you recognize differences between emotional & physical hunger
- Helps you learn to control the urge to eat when you are emotionally hungry
Fun Fact: It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register the chemicals released by your stomach that indicate when you are full.
Most of us eat our meals on the-go, in our cars on the way to work or school, at our desks, or distracted in front of the TV or computer. Feeling full is a result of your brain registering the chemicals that are released once you put food and drinks into your stomach. When we eat our meals in under 20 minutes, we are not allowing the brain-stomach connection to occur. This diminishes our ability to recognize our true fullness levels and could potentially lead to overeating. Once you complete your meal, chemical levels continue to rise over the next 10-30 mins and stay elevated for about 3-5 hours. This helps keep you satisfied until the chemical levels fall again, yielding the return of hunger.
To determine how long it takes you to finish your meal, set a timer and put it face down. Eat your meal like you normally would, without peaking at the timer. If you finish your meal in under 20 minutes, you ate too fast.
Here are some helpful tips to help you slow down your eating: sip water in between bites, put your fork down between bites, eat with your non-dominant hand, eat with chopsticks instead of a fork or spoon, and chew your food thoroughly before going for the next bite. If you still do not feel full directly following your meal, the best thing to do is wait. The level of chemicals will increase with a little extra time making your hunger fade.
First Step in Mindful Eating: Assess your Hunger Levels
When practicing mindful eating, it is important to first differentiate between emotional vs. physical hunger cues. Signs of physical hunger include: headache, dizziness, stomach growling, feeling faint, lightheadedness, irritability, or a gnawing in your stomach. Emotional hunger includes eating when
bored, happy, stressed, angry, anxious, depressed. Once you have determined you are physically hungry, assess your hunger level using the hunger scale. It is always best to keep your hunger levels between 3-7 so that you don’t end up in cycles of under eating or overeating. A good rule of thumb is to always eat in order to feel “satisfied” not “stuffed.”
Second Step: Establish Awareness
Establishing awareness helps you build a connection between your hunger and your environment in order to help control possible episodes of emotional eating. Use the awareness checklist to help guide you through the process. I recommend printing and hanging it either in your desk drawer at work or on the inside of your snack cabinet at home for when you have any urges to emotionally eat. You can also keep a screenshot on your phone for those difficult times when you feel a lack of control. The awareness checklist is also a helpful tool for guiding you through mindful eating.
Third Step: Be Present
After you have determined that you are in fact physically hungry and you have established awareness of your environment, it is time to practice being present. Shifting out of auto-pilot can be very difficult, especially when we are all so busy. However, mindful eating cannot be practiced without attentiveness. Take some time to look at the texture of your food and soak up each unique scent. With each bite, savor the flavor. If someone was to ask you what you had to eat, are you able to describe to someone each spice detected, each flavor tasted, and what it looked like? If not, then ensure you are in an environment free of distraction.
Mindful eating takes time to master so do not be discouraged if you have difficulty in the beginning. Your practice will certainly pay off as your portion sizes decrease while your ability to control hunger levels increases. Continue to utilize these tips and tools and eventually you will be an expert.