7 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating at Your Next Meal

Most of us know the feeling after getting home from work and not really remembering how you got there. Some of our routines are so automatic, we black out. I know people can feel this way with their eating habits as well. We grab the bag of chips, stand near the box of donuts in the office, get home from work and start snacking, and next thing we know we are uncomfortably full, and feeling like we had one too many bites.

We all have our unique habits, and some are healthy and some unhealthy, with all of their own degrees of consequences. Meditation and exercise could be implemented habits that do wonders for mental and physical health. Or, one could have a habit of over eating or over working, which can have negative consequences on mental and physical health. We cannot expect to be perfect, or perfectly consistent. Life has its peaks, valleys, and challenges. But what we do have control of is our intentions. At any time we can choose to be more aware of our habits in any area of life and improve upon them! Or fail, and simply try again. We are capable. We just need the tools, the willingness, and the persistence.

Stress and boredom are two of the top reasons my clients give for overeating, or simply eating when they are not hungry. Think about that for a second. We are eating, even though we are not hungry.  It is similar to how we may spend money when we shouldn’t, say things we don’t mean, or hit snooze even though it will make us late. When we are impulsive with our actions, reactions, and habits we are not being mindful of what is best, or most logical. Sometimes knowing what is healthy or what is logical may not change our habits.

We are all human and we are complex. But practicing mindfulness can improve this pattern. Mindfulness is the concept of being fully aware and deliberately conscious of what is happening in your body, mind, and environment. When we stop and tune in when we eat or have cravings it will help us to slow down and truly know what our body needs without criticism, despite other factors.

Here are some tips for approaching eating with mindfulness:

1. Rate your hunger.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being absolutely starving, and 10 being uncomfortably full) how hungry are you? It’s important to acknowledge your actual hunger level. With this scale we can be more mindful of not getting to the point of starving when we will eat anything and everything. But, also not continue to eat when we realize those couple of extra bites will likely put us over the edge. Don’t forget, the more delicious the food, the more likely we are to over eat it.

2. Ask: What is really going on?

We often eat for reasons other than actual hunger. We eat because we are stressed, bored, sad, at a social event, because we typically eat at a certain time, or because food is offered to us. We need to think twice about our intentions. Is there an emotion we need to deal with, or is there a void we are filling with the comfort of food? Not to say that it is bad to use food as comfort, but more so, how much and how often are we doing this.

3. Pause and wait 20 minutes.

This is the best and most simple tool. It may be difficult to implement, but once you start pausing to analyze your hunger, and be more curious about what food decisions you’re making, or are not making, a lot can change over time. The goal isn’t to wait and hope hunger or cravings go away. They might, but if not, how are you going to manage them? We can learn to honor them in a mindful, balanced, and nourishing way.

4. Acknowledge your food and avoid distractions.

When we are eating it is important that we are present. As cheesy as it sounds, slowing down and paying attention to your food can help you feel fuller, more satisfied, and overeat less. When we are distracted or eating in a hurry we don’t fully enjoy the experience of eating, and can be left dissatisfied. Try turning off the TV, or put your fork down in between bites.

5. Avoid the “clean your plate” club.

This goes along with following your hunger cues. When we really stop and acknowledge our fullness and know that it is perfectly okay to not finish our plate, we begin to eat less.

6. Use smaller plates and don’t eat from bag.

Don’t just fill your plate mindlessly. Start with less, slow down, and don’t eat out of boxes and bags.

7. Do not judge.

The most important thing you can do is to NOT judge your eating habits. Do not feel guilty or shameful for overeating, or moments of being impulsive. Instead get curious about what happened, learn from it, and accept it. It is okay, and we don’t have to give up and turn one decision into many bad decisions. The next meal or snack (not next week) is a great time to be more mindful and move on.

With these tools in tow you will begin to able to eat with more intention, satisfaction, and purpose. This type of mindful eating allows us to minimize overeating, binge eating, restrictive eating, anxiety, and depression, and maximize our nutrition. Eating is a journey not an end goal! This approach is more positive, gives you more dietary choice and flexibility, as well as builds up the self-efficacy you need to sustain healthy eating habits. Good luck!

Liz Satterthwaite, RDN, LDN, is a ProMedica dietitian. 

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