January 16, 2019

Mindfulness: A lasting approach to healthy eating

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” — Zen proverb

The post-holiday nutritional about-face never fails to amaze me: Magazines highlighting holiday fudge recipes last month are now promoting juice cleanses. Grocery shelves that tempted with candy and chocolate chips now abound with vegetable powders and fiber bars. Foods are labeled “good” or “bad” — leading us to feel “virtuous” or “guilty” based on our choices and perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with food.

Instead of focusing on how you will “cleanse” yourself from holiday indulgences, consider a mindful approach to eating all year.

Do you eat mindlessly?

Have you ever reached the bottom of a bag of chips while watching TV, realizing you don’t even really remember eating them? Do you eat all the food on your plate as quickly as you can? Do you find yourself opening the pantry doors, grabbing the first thing you see without asking yourself if you are even hungry in the first place?

These are all examples of mindless eating. While we all eat this way from time to time, frequent mindless eating can lead to less enjoyment of your food, as well as eating too much.

What is mindful eating?

According to The Center for Mindful Eating, mindful eating involves choosing to eat food that is pleasing to you, nourishing to your body and using all your senses to explore, savor and taste. Mindful eating is also learning to be aware of physical hunger and cues that guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating.

Mindful eating is not about deprivation or guilt. It is about truly experiencing your foods, which can help you feel more satisfied after eating less. Mindful eating is not a weight-loss plan, though several studies indicate it can help with weight loss and disordered eating, including binge eating.

How can I eat mindfully?

Like any new skill, mindful eating takes practice and can feel a bit awkward at first. Here are some tips to get you started.

Eat in a set place: Minimize distractions such as television and electronic devices. Sit down to eat (at the table, not at your desk or on the couch). Eat off a plate, not directly from the package.

Focus on what you are about to eat: Take a moment to be thankful for the food in front of you. Take notice of the food on your plate. Before you even take the first bite, let your eyes take in the shape and color of the food; let your nose take in the aromas.

Focus on the act of eating: Observe any physical or emotional sensations, such as stress, hunger or fatigue. Chew your food slowly; take in the texture and the sensations in your mouth. Enjoy your food without guilt or judgment. Begin to notice when the food does not have as much flavor. The most flavor is in the first few bites. Aim to eat to the point of being “satisfied” — not “full” or “stuffed”.

Rest assured, eating a few treats from time to time will not derail your ongoing efforts. By eating mindfully, you will be more likely to actually enjoy the treats and feel satisfied. Building a healthy relationship with food is a plan that will not fluctuate with the seasons.

For more information, go to eatingmindfully.com.