How often have you found yourself eating a quick breakfast in the car, lunch at the computer, dinner in front of the TV, or a snack right out of the bag as you scroll through your phone?
If this sounds like you, you are like most busy Americans who multitask while eating. This is known as mindless eating, and it can be attributed to many unhealthy habits that can lead to being overweight or obese and result in serious to severe health problems.
The opposite of mind"less" is mind"ful"
Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Applying that definition to food can improve health by creating new practices for how we eat. These practices eventually become habits that center around reconnecting with internal hunger cues, instead of external cues, and making deliberate choices against unconscious eating patterns.
So how do you put mindful eating into practice? To be truly mindful, we need to be present in the moment and curious about what we are feeling and what is going on around us. When it comes to being mindful about our eating, it is helpful to ask: Why and How am I eating?
Seven essential questions
Before every meal or before you grab food on the go, consider “Why?” Ask:
- Am I truly hungry? Or, are you eating because the clock says it’s your normal time to eat? Is it possible that you are thirsty or have another reason for wanting to eat (such as smelling a freshly baked cookie or being invited to a new restaurant for dinner)?
- If I'm still eating, is it possible that I am full? It takes 20 minutes for various hormones in your body to signal the brain that you are full. Set a timer when you sit down to eat and slow down! Give your body time to respond to the food and register that you’re done eating.
- Am I eating because I am bored? Or are you lonely or sad? A lot of times we eat because we do not feel hungry, but we’re feeling something else. Addressing these emotions directly and not with food can help you avoid emotional eating.
Then consider “How” you’re eating. Ask:
- Is my portion size appropriate? Most people will eat what's in front of them regardless of how hungry they are. Read labels and adjust your serving accordingly. Choosing a smaller plate can help as well.
- Am I eating slowly and chewing thoroughly? Chewing slowly increases pleasure and feelings of fullness. As you’re eating, put your fork or spoon down in between bites or use your non-dominant hand or even chopsticks to help you take the time and appreciate the act of eating.
- Am I eating directly from a bag or container? Eating directly from a bag or container typically leads to overeating. Always portion out appropriate serving sizes into smaller containers.
- Am I distracted while I am eating? Removing all technology, work, or other distractions can help you be present in the moment so you can focus on enjoying your food. Before you begin to eat, take a moment and reflect on where your food has come from and how many people have been involved in bringing it to your table.
By asking yourself these questions, you will start to become aware of what is truly happening when it comes to food, eating, and nutrition. But remember: Behavior change takes time! Start with one change (such as putting your fork down in between bites) and practice, practice, practice. Before you know it, you will have developed a new healthy and mindful eating habit!
To learn more about eating right and living healthy, get a one-on-one consultation with a certified nutritionist through the Y's Nutrition Program.
A former pediatric nurse, Liz Bravman, RN, is a cycling instructor, nutrition educator and personal trainer at the Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA in Arvada. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and a Master’s degree in nutrition education.