Mindful Eating

Somewhere, someone, is rolling their eyes at the title of this blog.  Look, I know meditation and mindfulness is a tough sell sometimes, but that’s not even what I’m selling here.  In fact, I’m not selling anything.  I’m sharing a fact.  Mindful eating can be the beginning step to a healthier body and/or weight loss, should that be the goal.  So, let’s find some other terms for mindful eating that might be a little more relatable: eating slowly, eating without distraction, chewing before swallowing (a parental favorite), tasting the flavor, enjoying your meal, eating joyfully, and finally, eating in peace.

If you’re a mom with young children at home, that last one really struck didn’t it?  When my kids were younger, that’s all I ever wanted when I had a rare moment alone – to just eat in peace.  But that also led me to eating even when I wasn’t hungry, but that’s a different blog.

There’s more to mindful eating than just not wanting to choke on our food.  See, when we eat distracted, like at the office in front of the computer screen for example, we can miss very important cues and signals that our body might be trying to send us.  Like – the fact that we are full, or still hungry, or thirsty, or if the food we are eating is affecting us physically in any capacity (heart burn, bloating, cramping, tired, and so on).  In addition, your metabolism is connected to so many things!  Your body is sending so many signals for your body to prepare for food in your mouth, your stomach, your gut.  Eating distracted can slow this process down.

It’s also a form of negative habit pairing.  Ever try to start a new habit by pairing it with an existing one?  Like you need to start taking a vitamin, so you do it every morning with your breakfast, or you want to start a gratitude journal, so you do it after brushing your teeth.  The difference is that distracted eating has a negative affect – let’s take eating while watching television for example. This activity, which might seem harmless, teaches your brain, very subtly of course, that you’re hungry while you watch television and that you should be eating while you do so, even if you aren’t hungry or its 10pm.  Look, I’m not perfect, I’m guilty of enjoying a movie or television show while eating, even working while eating.  I don’t believe in absolutes; I believe in balance.  However, it should be our exception not our rule.  I think this especially for our children.  Which is why we do our best to eat meals as a family most days of the week which I address in another blog, here.

Mindful eating is one of the many strategies I use with clients.  It’s also one of the easiest ways to get started without changing anything else!  Other things may need to change as time moves on, but this is a game changer.  So many of us don’t have that hunger cue awareness we so desperately need.  Mindful eating helps with that.  So, this is me offering up a FREE COACH TIP!  Here are some ways you can start eating mindfully today:

  • Use a timer: Time yourself eating lunch or dinner for a few days in a row.  Let’s say it takes you 10 minutes.  Simply add a few minutes to that and set the timer so that you don’t finish your meal until the timer is done.  This is easy to do now that we have smart phones.  It may be surprising how quickly you can eat a meal.  Extend and extend.

  • Pause between each bite:  Take a moment between each bite.  You can set your fork down, talk to someone at the table, drink your water, take a breath, or simply take a minute to taste each flavor.

  • Follow the tortoise:  It’s the tortoise and the hare theory.  Align yourself with the tortoise.  The tortoise in our family is my 8-year old daughter.  She’s a true Italian at heart and can take a good hour to finish her meal sometimes!  Align yourself with the slowest eater at the table (i.e. the tortoise) and follow their pace.

  • Enjoy each bite: I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of inhaling my food sometimes.  Instead, treat your food like a tasting.  Pretend you are sommelier or a judge on the Food Network.  Chew slowly, and intentionally, trying to taste each flavor in your meal.  Ask yourself questions:  What can I taste?  Is it dry?  Is it moist? What would be good with it?  And answer these questions.

  • Dis the distraction:  Turn off the television, turn off the computer screen, don’t eat while you’re driving.  Eating with others is good and can help you slow down, plus healthy relationships are key to success. You don’t need to be alone to be mindful.  Do this for a minimum of one meal a day – record what you notice.

Commit to this habit for just two weeks.  Start asking yourself some questions:  What do you notice?  Are you sensing you are full before you’ve finished your whole plate?  Do you notice you are still hungry when you are done?  Are you realizing certain foods are triggers physically?  Are you noticing you were eating at certain times out of habit or convenience, not out of hunger?  Where did you eat? Who did you eat with?  How did you feel?

Mindfulness is simply being aware of the current situation while you’re in it and if your mind begins to wander, noticing, and bringing it back to where you are. Mindful eating is just that – awareness of how you feel while you’re eating.  Believe it or not, when given the opportunity, children are the most natural mindful eaters around.  When they are hungry, they eat, when they are full, they stop.  They take breaks constantly between bites.  (Much to us parents dismay).  But the truth is their bodies are so intuitive it’s crazy.  Somewhere along the line, we can lose that.  It can be something we’re taught, it can be related to an emotion, or it’s something we learn from our peers.  Getting back to it could make the difference.

I would love to hear from you.  Will you try this?  Are you already practicing mindful eating?  What do you notice? Do you have questions?  Drop me a line in the comments section!  Until then, this is me, wishing you, a heart filled with balance.