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Three Steps to Mindful Eating

By Mary Perry, Registered Dietitian

Do these habits sound familiar?

  • Eating until you are too full and then feeling guilty
  • Emotional eating – eating when you are bored, stressed or anxious rather than hungry
  • Grazing on food without really tasting it
  • Mindlessly munching on snacks while zoned out in front of the TV or computer
  • Eating a meal at the same time each day whether you are hungry or not
  • Skipping meals, not paying attention to your hunger signals
               Source: Mindful Eating Author and psychologist Susan Albers, Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center

We engage in these habits day in and day out and then wake up one day, realizing we don’t look and feel the way we won’t to.  Often this sends us into a mindset of restriction as we try to regain control over our eating habits.  The enjoyment of food and the skill of listening to our body continue to get lost as the dieting mindset is often one of deprivation.  Wouldn’t it be great to lose weight and support your health all while learning how to slow down and savor your food just by listening to your body?  Yes it is possible by reshifting our focus to an approach of mindfulness in terms of our eating.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the moment-by-moment awareness of life.  Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s going on and being aware of the activities of the present moment.  So how can we apply this to what we eat? 

Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities of food consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom.  It means choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body and using all your senses to explore, savor and taste it.  It means learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating.  It means balancing what we eat (healthy foods and “fun foods”) with how you eat (habits, emotional eating, and pace of eating). 

Three Steps to Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a process.  In order for it to become a habit, it needs to be trained like muscle, which can only be strengthened through work and practice.  Here are 3 steps to help you practice mindful eating.

1.  Arriving or mindfully approaching the food.

Before eating we need take a moment to become aware of the food we are about to consume.  We’ve all had those times where we ate our meal and can’t even remember eating it.  To help tune in to what you’re about to do, some strategies include taking a few centering breaths before eating.  Sometimes it’s sounds or words, such as giving a word of thanks before the meal.  It can be body action such as folding your hands, smelling the food, or even visual cues such as looking at the food and appreciating its color. 

Being in the moment and focusing on what you’re about to eat helps you to realize whether are you just eating out of habit or are you really hungry and ready for some fuel.

2.  Awakening or purposefully giving our attention to the food as we eat it.

Awakening is being aware of every bite we take.  Have you ever noticed that often you’re loading your fork up with the next bite of food while you’re still chewing the last bite?  A good strategy for giving attention to our food as we eat it to put your silverware down between bites; focusing on the taste, texture, and appearance of the food; and chewing thoroughly before taking the next bite. 

If you think of your mouth as being like a magnifying glass, zooming in, imagine that each bite is magnified 100 percent.  Pay close attention to all your senses by using your tongue to feel the texture and temperature. Think about how it really tastes and check in with yourself by asking if this is something that is satisfying my taste buds and what I really want to eat.  Awakening helps to prevent us from mindless habits and eating for reasons other than hunger. 

3.  Tuning in to your body as you eat.

Tuning in refers to extending our attention beyond the food and focusing on how our bodies feel before we eat, while we eat, and after we eat.  Strategies include rating our hunger and fullness levels on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being you’re ready to gnaw on your desk and 10 being “Thanksgiving full.”  Ideally you want to be around  a 3-4 to start, where you’re hungry and ready to eat, and stopping around a 7 where the urge to eat is gone and you’re comfortably full.   Pausing during a meal helps to slow down the pace of eating and allows our bodies to catch up with our mind to let us know if we’re still hungry or full. 

Taking smaller bites is another good strategy.  Did you ever notice that a large bite and a small bite taste exactly the same?  Or how the 4th or 5th bite of a piece of pie never tastes as good as the first?  Smaller bites let us pay attention to make sure our mind is truly present rather than gobbling our food.  Paying attention to our body movements as we eat also helps us to focus in the moment.  Did you ever notice how fast you eat?  Or how amazing it is that our fork always manages to find its way into our mouth without us thinking about it? 

Many of us are so out of practice of listening to our bodies that it’s difficult sometimes to figure out if we’re still hungry or full.  Rather than have a last meal mentality, remind yourself that you can always eat again.  For example, if you only eat half your lunch, put it away and eat the other half later for a snack if you find your stomach growling.

Awareness of the moment is when change can begin.  Cultivating this awareness when we eat can help us change our habits, creating a healthier life by respecting our bodies and the food we give it.

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