5 Tips to Practice Mindful Eating
This post discusses 5 mindful eating tips to help you start practicing this skill. But first, what is mindful eating, and why is it important?
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is being aware of all aspects of eating and food: what we are eating, the fact that we are eating, how we are eating, and the environment we are eating in. It engages all senses and encourages focusing on sight, smell, sound, taste, and mouthfeel of our food and the setting we are eating food in.
Why is it important?
When we are eating more mindfully, we are typically more satisfied with our food. We feel better, have better digestion, and it can be easier to meet any health and weight loss goals. When we pay attention to how we are eating and the fact that we are eating we tend to chew our food better, slow down, and stop when we feel satisfied.
Mindful eating helps us find a balance between nutritious foods and fun foods. By becoming more aware of our food choices and finding more enjoyment in eating, we can enjoy things like desserts sometimes, while limiting them at others without feeling deprived.
So how do we begin to practice mindful eating? Here are 5 mindful eating tips.
5 mindful eating tips
1. Check in with your hunger
Oftentimes we see food, pick it up, and eat it without a second thought. This could be nuts in a small dish in the living room, cookies on the counter, or chips in the breakroom. When we are eating more mindfully, however, we will ask ourselves whether or not we are actually hungry before having something to eat. So, before eating something, check in with your hunger: am I actually hungry for this cookie?
Know that there are different types of hunger, though. Two of these include stomach hunger and mouth hunger. Stomach hunger is true physical hunger where we may get hunger pangs or grumbles in our stomach, or simply need to refuel. Mouth hunger on the other hand is the desire for a specific taste or texture. We may want the cookies on the counter because they taste good, or we want something sweet, but we may not be truly hungry for them.
Something that can help determine whether you are truly hungry or simply wanting something because of the taste, is imagining other foods. When we are truly hungry, we have a more general hunger, meaning multiple foods could sound appetizing. So, if the cookies sound good, but so does chicken, or carrots, an apple, or potatoes, this is likely stomach hunger. But, if nothing else sounds good, JUST those cookies, that is mouth hunger.
Now, if we’ve determined that we aren’t truly hungry and we just want something because it tastes good, that does not mean we shouldn’t have it! We can absolutely eat something just because we want it. The point is to be more mindful about these decisions, and understand whether this mouth hunger would be helping or hindering any goals around healthy eating or how you feel.
When you are eating, continue to check in with your hunger and fullness. It’s okay if you do not finish your food, or don’t clean your plate if you’re satisfied with the amount you ate. If you’re still learning this, I recommend pausing while eating. For example, say you do finish your plate and you’re unsure if you’d like more food. Wait 10-15 minutes. If you are still hungry, eat some more, but if you aren’t, you’ll know what you had was enough for the time being.
2. Ask yourself: How will you feel after eating? Right after and hours later?
Will you feel better after eating? Happily satisfied? Too full and sluggish? Have a stomach ache? Still feel hungry? Have a sugar crash later on, leaving you feeling tired, hungry, and cranky?
These questions can help determine whether we want/need to eat something in general, or whether we want to eat something specific that may or may not serve us in the moment.
For example, there are often baked goods in the breakroom at my work, and around 3 pm, I may have identified that I am actually hungry. However, I also know that if I eat a donut, I not only won’t be any less hungry (because they’re not very filling), but I’ll also have a sugar crash later on. So, I will eat something, but I’ll choose something more balanced.
3. Smell & taste your food
When we do decide to eat something, it can be helpful to first smell and then truly taste our food. Pay attention to the smell, flavor, texture, mouthfeel, etc.
4. Take small bites, eat slowly, and limit distractions
When we eat quickly, we are not chewing our food thoroughly, which not only leads to feeling less satisfied, but also digestive issues and poor nutrient absorption. When eating too quickly, we also aren’t tasting our food as well, either, which again leaves us less satisfied. Our taste buds are actually satisfied in the first three bites, but we don’t notice that unless we are paying attention. Mindful eating is really about paying attention to eating while eating – which I know is MUCH easier said than done.
We are also more likely to eat beyond our needs as it does take twenty minutes to begin realizing we are full. If we eat too quickly, we may end up overeating and have a stomach ache. A helpful practice to prevent this is to leave enough time to eat (like waking in time so we aren’t eating while rushing out the door) and to prevent getting overly hungry, which causes us to eat quickly.
Additionally, distractions like TV, phones, computers, etc. limit our ability to truly taste and eat slowly as we are multitasking, which the brain is not good at (in fact, we don’t actually multitask, we switch back and forth quickly between different foci). Instead, we are likely to eat beyond fullness because we aren’t checking in with our hunger. We may stop eating only when the food is gone and to realize we barely tasted it or remembered eating it. I speak from experience on this one!
5. Truly enjoy your food
This one is especially true for foods we say we love. For example, I really do love ice cream. But, I actually prefer to go out for ice cream on a hot summer day and enjoy the whole experience around eating it. I want to eat it slowly and truly taste the different flavors, creamy texture, and refreshing coolness while enjoying the warm sun on my face. Ice cream is something I don’t want to eat often because I don’t feel very well the next day, nor does eating it too often help me towards my health goals. So, if I’m going to eat it, I want to make it more worthwhile! That is the balance!
For additional help with mindful eating and mindful eating tips, work with me!