How many times have you found yourself in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn or bag of chips and, before you knew it, half the bag was gone – and you weren't even hungry?! Or sat down to eat dinner at 6 p.m. even though you were still full from eating lunch at 4 p.m.? How about finishing a plate of food after you were no longer hungry just because the food was there?
These scenarios happen when we're living on autopilot. Some everyday tasks such as showering, brushing our teeth, driving, and often times eating can become routine to the point that we become detached from our thoughts, feelings, and actions as we perform them. This can put us at risk of being stuck in a routine for a long time that no longer works for us.
You know you are eating mindlessly if you:
- Eat a plate of food quickly without tasting it
- Munch on snacks in front of the television
- Automatically follow "food rules" (such as "no carbs" or "no sweets") without thinking about what your body wants or needs
- Ignore your body's signals telling you that you are hungry – or full
- Multitask (studying, driving, talking on the phone) while you eat
- Eat out of boredom even though you're not hungry
- Stress eat
- Eat lunch at noon or dinner at a certain time whether or not you are hungry
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of thinking and being in the world, adapted from Eastern practices of relaxation and meditation. It is a simple concept, but can be hard to master. When you are mindful, you are fully present, in the moment – as you are reading this, you are in a mindful state of focused, conscious awareness.
We are not practicing mindfulness when we spend our time dwelling on the past or planning for the future. When we think about the past or future, we tend not to notice what is happening here and now, in the moment. This is especially true for routine tasks. To be mindful, you have to consciously shift your focus to the present – to the what, why, and how of your actions.
When we eat mindfully, we are aware of the taste, texture, and process of eating without being judgmental. Mindful eating does not mean that we are more aware of the calories, fat, and carbs in our food – instead, it means we are aware of the actual process of eating and how our body feels as we chew and swallow.
When we eat mindfully, focused on the here and now, we can easily check in with our body and see if we are hungry, full, or satisfied. Because mindfulness makes us more attentive to our body's natural feedback, eating mindfully can help us eat a diet of balance and moderation and break free of repetitive eating habits.
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Tips for Mindful Eating
Stop eating on autopilot. Can you remember what you ate for breakfast today? Did you eat it because your body wanted it or just because that's what you always eat? Notice if you are stuck in a rut.
- Experience every bite from the beginning to the end of your meal. Notice the smell of the soup, the texture of the bread.
- If you notice yourself eating quickly, put down your fork for a minute. When you pick it up again, make a point to chew more slowly, take smaller bites, or try taking a deep breath before putting more food into your mouth.
Check in mindfully. Ask yourself, how hungry am I on a scale of 1 to 10? Practice eating to satisfy your hunger instead of eating until you're stuffed.
Think and speak mindfully about food.
- Negative thoughts and comments (such as, "I'm so stupid" or "I'm such a pig – I ate that whole thing") can trigger overeating or stop you from eating enough. Observe these thoughts and feelings, notice them when they come up, but try not to let them affect the way you eat.
- Focus on having positive experiences around mealtimes. If possible, avoid eating with people who make you feel stressed or guilty about what you eat.
- When planning your meals, be sure to give yourself enough time to eat slowly, savor your food and enjoy your meal.
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