10 tips for mindful eating

If you be aware of what you eat and savour each bite, your food will do much more than just fill your stomach

Man eating salad

Eating is such a routine behaviour that you can eat an entire plate of food and not taste one bite. This is called mindless eating—eating without awareness. You can also fall into repetitive mindless eating habits such as eating a snack at the same time each day or sitting in front of the TV and mindlessly munching on popcorn, and snack nervously on food when you are stressed.

When you eat food in a mechanical way, you enjoy it less. Mindless eating also makes you vulnerable to overeating and weight gain. Don’t worry, you can stop this unconscious habit and learn the art of mindful eating today.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes for it. Nor does it cut out any foods from your diet.

Mindful eating simply means being more aware of what you eat. It involves centring your attention on food in a non-judgemental way. When you are eating mindfully, you enjoy your food, savour it and also feel more in control. It’s the polar opposite of binging.

Mindful eating is important because it is a long-term approach to eating [versus dieting, which is short-term].

Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Mindfully store food. If you can see it, you are more likely to want to eat it, even if you aren’t hungry. You may not have been craving donuts until you pass them in the lunchroom. Then, you can’t get them off your mind. Strategically placing food falls in line with the “out of sight, out of mind” principle.In a 2006 study, researchers from Cornell University examined how many pieces of candy office workers ate when a candy dish was nearby. They found that people ate more candies when they were visible and easily accessible. Convenience leads to mindless munching and grazing. The opposite is true as well.You are more likely to eat healthy foods if they are placed within your easy reach. Keep healthy food handy instead—a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, or a healthy snack in your purse. When you don’t have healthy food handy, you are tempted to eat anything.
  2. Avoid multi-tasking. When you eat, just eat. It’s tempting to eat while you work, talk on the phone or answer an e-mail. But according to research, this can actually interfere with mindful eating, or eating enough to satisfy your hunger without going overboard.A 2001 study by French researchers, France Bellisle and Anne-Marie Dalix, found that women who were distracted by a task versus those who just focused on their meal ate 15 per cent more [72 additional calories] and enjoyed their food less.It’s better to eat for a short amount of focused time than to do two things while you eat. So the few moments that you eat, put down whatever you are doing and focus on your snack.
  3. Have TV-less dinners. It’s tempting to turn on the TV while you eat. But, studies show this leads to mindless eating. TV commercials stimulate hunger, and your attention is focused on the TV show and not on your food.
  4. Sit to eat. We often eat standing over a counter, nibble at something while walking or munching as we make dinner, never realising how much we eat.When you sit down, you tend to focus on it and pay much more attention to how much food you eat. So, sit and eat.
  5. Leave evidence. Leave a trail. Keep the candy bar wrapper on your desk. Don’t throw away the baggie once you are finished with the bag of pretzels [bread pastry]. Keeping physical evidence or reminders helps you to be more mindful of what you eat.
  6. Take mindful bites. Make each bite a mindful bite. Think of your mouth as being a magnifying glass, zooming in. Imagine that each bite is magnified a 100 times.Pay close attention to all your senses, use your tongue to feel the texture, gauge the temperature and take a whiff of the aroma. Ask yourself, “How does it really taste? What does it feel like in my mouth? Is this something I really want? Does it satisfy my taste buds? Is my mind truly present when I take a bite so that I experience it fully?”
  7. Follow the ‘like it, love it’ principle. When people begin to be more mindful of what they eat, they begin to distinguish between foods they really love and enjoy and the food that is mediocre. And then cut out the foods they don’t really like.Mindful eaters don’t deliberately stay off food to lose weight, like in dieting. They just becoming choosy about what they feel is worth their time to eat, thus improving their eating experience.
  8. Pay attention when you shop. Mindful eating begins with mindful shopping. If you’ve just started mindful eating, here’s a fun exercise to do. Take an old grocery receipt and circle all the items that were impulse buys and/or contributed to your mindless eating. This should help you to gauge some of your vulnerabilities at the grocery store.Many people race through the store trying to the get the task done. Instead, schedule a time when you can leisurely stroll through the store and investigate new products. For some, making a list prior to shopping helps them be more aware of the foods they ‘need’ versus the foods they ‘want’.
  9. Buy the highest quality of food you can. Chocolate is a great example. Consider how you approach a cheap bag of bulk candy versus an expensive bar of high quality bar of chocolate. Many people savour an expensive bar and can make it last a week.In contrast, it is easy to munch mindlessly on inexpensive chocolate kisses. Cost of food matters. It makes us much more conscious of what we eat.
  10. Soothe yourself without food. Your refrigerator is a lousy source of comfort. Using food to soothe ourselves is like taking an aspirin for a broken arm. A more effective way to deal with stress is to target specific areas of tension.

This was first published in the October 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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