If you are trying to improve your health or incorporate more healthy habits in your lifestyle, mindful eating may help you.
It’s a well-known fact that strict diets and exercise regimes often fail because of poor compliance after some time. Mindful eating, on the contrary, is a small addition to your daily routine that can help you cultivate healthy eating habits that are easier to stick to for the long term.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating refers to being a more conscious eater. It means to eat being in the present, keeping your focus on the food you are eating, engaging all your senses, and eating without any distractions. It also helps you distinguish between hunger and cravings, makes you aware of when to stop eating, and promotes a more positive attitude towards what you eat.
The concept of mindful eating comes from the concept of mindfulness, which in the simplest explanation, means to be in the present– keeping your focus on what’s going on in this moment. It makes you mindful of what you are doing now and helps you not dwell on the feelings associated with the past or the worries about the future.
Similarly, mindful eating tells you to be in the present moment when you eat, make healthy decisions regarding what you eat, create a more pleasant eating experience, and feel good about what you eat.
We will explore how you can do that in this article.
How to Eat Mindfully?
You don’t need to complicate your eating experience. Complicated things don’t last anyway.
Start with some simple modifications in your eating habits and make more changes as you get comfortable with one thing.
Some simple ways you can get started with mindful eating are as follows:
1. Avoid any distractions while eating.
So, no TV, work, or chatting while eating. Mindful eating promotes eating in peace; directing all your focus to the food you eat.
Doing this allows you to slow down for a moment— which can help you calm down and forget about stressful things. It also ensures that you have the best time enjoying the meal. Mindful eating, therefore, increases your sense of satisfaction after the meal.
2. Have gratitude towards your food.
Before you dig in, say thanks. Think about where the food came from, who prepared it, and how it will nourish your body. Be grateful for the food you are eating.
Doing this improves your relationship with food. For example, you look at food as something that nourishes your body and helps you stay healthy– physically and mentally, rather than something that makes you go fat (like how people with eating disorder often think).
Also, being grateful promotes overall psychological well-being and happiness– as per studies.
3. Engage your senses and notice everything about your food.
Engaging your senses means noticing the texture, taste, and aroma of the food you eat. It also means noticing how the food you eat makes you feel later in the day.
When you engage your senses, it does two things:
- It helps you be in the present– which will help you relax.
- It helps identify the food that makes you feel great and the food that makes you, for example, bloated or causes any other kind of discomfort.
4. Eat slowly and chew properly.
Eating at a slower pace and chewing well encourages you to stay in the moment– the being mindful part of this practice. It also aids in better digestion and prevents overeating. When you eat slowly, you will notice the sense of fullness better.
There is also the concept of eating till you are 80% full. Again, this ensures you don’t overeat; without compromising satiety and nutrition.
5. Don’t have any judgements about your eating habit.
The point of mindful eating is not shaming yourself for your eating habits. It also does not ask you to quit eating specific food categories. You can still enjoy your favourite not-so-healthy foods from time to time without any judgement.
If you suffer from an eating disorder or are an emotional/stress eater— don’t judge your eating habits.
Mindful eating is not about judging your eating habits and therefore changing them. It’s more about accepting them and then making small changes towards improvement.
6. Be More Aware Of Hunger Cues
Mindful eating encourages noticing your body’s cues of hunger. That means thinking about whether you are hungry or if it’s a craving– before you start eating.
Ask yourself, are you eating because you are bored or stressed? Or because you are sad about something? Or are you eating because your body needs nutrition?
Doing this prevents emotional eating and may even help you identify your triggers for emotional eating.
Some Helpful Tips To Get Started With Mindful Eating
1. Start with a few meals per week
Or even one meal a week, where you practice mindful eating. Then gradually increase the number of meals or days your practice mindful eating.
Build the habit slowly, rather than attempting a drastic change only to quit in a week.
2. Start with small changes
Now, you don’t need to change what you eat completely. But you can start by adding a few healthy foods to the diet.
For example, instead of starting to prepare meals at home (although this is ideal), start by adding fruits to your diet or adding 1 home-cooked meal per day, without making any other dietary change. So, just 1 small healthy addition to start with.
In the beginning, however, take this step as an optional thing.
3. How to differentiate between hunger and cravings?
The way I differentiate is by noticing a couple of things:
- Hunger comes from the stomach. You may feel your stomach rumble a little. Cravings come from the mouth.
- If you wait for a while and do something else, cravings generally disappear. On the other hand, hunger only intensifies with time.
- You may also feel a little low on energy when you are actually hungry.
What Does Research Say About Mindful Eating and How It Can Benefit You?
There are plenty of studies on mindfulness and how mindfulness is helpful for us. For example, it may benefit people with anxiety and depression.
Similarly, mindful eating is also turning out to be a helpful practice— as per studies. Although, more studies on a larger scale would be ideal and are needed to understand its impact more conclusively. But we do have some scientific proof that it can be helpful in many ways.
- Mindful eating promotes eating slowly, and slow eating prevents overeating. You tend to recognise the sense of fullness better when you eat slowly. This is because it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the signal of fullness (via satiety hormone PYY) to reach your brain from the gut (from the initial bite). So, if you eat too quickly, you are more likely to miss that signal and overeat.
- Mindful eating may help control binge eating, external eating, emotional eating, and eating in response to food cravings. All of these eating patterns are related to weight gain and obesity. It also improves overall psychological well-being.
- Some smaller studies on diabetics shows mindful eating can help with better dietary habits, promotes weight loss and improves glycemic control. So, if you a diabetic or a prediabetic, mindful eating may be beneficial for you as well (in addition to your lifestyle modification and medications).
What Mindful Eating Is NOT?
Mindful eating is like meditating while you eat. It makes you more aware of the relationship between you and the food you eat.
However, you should also know what mindful eating is not.
1. It’s not a “diet plan”.
While it encourages you to notice what you eat and how what you eat makes you feel, it does not ask you to restrict your calories.
You can, of course, incorporate it into your healthy diet plan. But to practice mindful eating, you don’t need to change your diet. At least, not completely, and certainly not from the beginning.
You can still enjoy the food you love and continue to eat what you eat (home-cooked or take-outs)— but with the added component of being mindful.
If this practice eventually encourages you to opt for more healthy food, then that’s a plus.
2. It does not mean being judgemental about your eating habits.
Mindful eating can be helpful for people who have unhealthy eating habits or suffer from an eating disorder, as proven by some early research.
However, it does not mean being judgemental about your eating habits and forcing a change. As mentioned earlier, it’s more about acknowledging the eating habit without judgement, identifying the triggers, and then trying to eat only when you are actually hungry (and not in response to any triggers like emotions or stress).
It may take a while to develop that kind of control. However, with this practice, you can build that kind of willpower over time.
Don’t force any change. Don’t make unrealistic goals. Start by practising mindful eating one day per week (or even one meal each week), then gradually try to become an overall mindful eater.
3. It is not the treatment for obesity or eating disorders or any other health condition.
Mindful eating should not be considered a treatment for these conditions. It is a complementary practice that promotes healthy eating habits.
Eating disorders and morbid obesity need medical attention. DO NOT ignore your doctor’s advice and treatment plan.
Similarly, if you are trying to lose weight to be more fit, mindful eating should be considered a supportive measure in this case too. You will still need regular workouts and a good diet.
Mindful eating is more of a supportive measure to these issues.
Mindful vs Mindless Eating
Mindful eating is to be more conscious about what we eat and how we feel about what we eat.
On the hand, mindless eating is what has become the current trend– something that most of us are guilty of doing at some point.
Mindless eating is not being aware of what we are eating—
- the unhealthy food choices we make,
- never analysing why we eat what we eat,
- “grabbing something to eat”,
- eating on the run,
- eating in front of the computer or the TV or while working.
- It also means not being aware of when we are full and should stop eating,
- not being able to differentiate between actual hunger and cravings, and
- not being able to have self-control when it comes to eating (or over-eating in response to emotions or stress).
It is the exact opposite of mindful eating.
So, What You Need To Remember About Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a great way to get started with better eating habits. It will help you slow down, have more control over your cravings, and may help you drop a few pounds.
While this practice may sound simple, it may require some self-control and discipline. To tackle this, you can begin by practising mindful eating a few meals per week. Don’t worry if you struggle in the beginning.
Mindful eating can be that one good habit which may have a positive cascading effect on your overall lifestyle.
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