Mindful eating, a concept based on Buddhist traditions, is a process of putting all your focus on the food you are eating. You eat slowly with no distractions, while noticing all the nuances of each bite: temperature, texture, flavors, and sensations in your body.
While this can be a powerful experience, most of us aren’t able to eat like this all of the time. Then, how do we eat mindfully in the real world?
In her book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat,” Dr. Michelle May defines mindful eating as “eating with intention and attention.” When you eat with intention, there is a purpose for eating – to satisfy hunger, fuel your body and for enjoyment. When you eat with attention, you tune in to the sensations and flavors of what you are eating. You also pay attention to your body’s internal cues about satisfaction and fullness.
Here are six ways to build mindfulness into your meals:
1. Before you eat, take a minute to think about why you want to eat. Are you physically hungry, bored or are you eating by the clock?
2. Remember that true hunger is a physical sensation. Physical hunger can feel like an empty or shrinking feeling in your stomach. You may also feel the effects of low blood sugar, such as: irritability, trouble concentrating, light headed, nauseated, or have a headache.
3. When planning what to eat, think about what foods make you feel good physically. The goal of mindful eating is to feel better when you’re finished eating, not worse.
4. Consider balance when choosing what to eat. What does your body need and what have you already eaten? Do you need vegetables, fruit, protein, carbs or fat?
5. Think about what foods make you feel satisfied and allow yourself to have them. Remember that satisfaction is both mental and physical. Deprivation of our favorite foods rarely works. How many times have you said to yourself, “I’m never having ice cream again,” only to find eating a pint of Häagen-Daaz two weeks later.
6. While eating, pause periodically. Put your fork down, take a couple of deep breaths and check in with your body and your taste-buds. Notice if you feel any sensations in your stomach or if the food is starting to lose its luster. If we pay attention, even when eating our favorite foods, we may notice that things become too salty, sweet, creamy, etc.
Try one or two of these tips at your next meal. You may notice that you feel much more satisfied when you eat when truly hungry and eat the foods that make you feel satisfied. If you balance eating for nutrition with eating for pleasure, you are eating mindfully. Eating is one of life’s great pleasures – just make sure it isn’t the only one!
Molly Ellefson, MS, CHWC, is an Integrative health and wellness coach with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. She will be teaching the eight-session “Am I hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshop,” based on May’s book, starting Sept. 25. Learn more about the class.