Cultivating a healthy relationship with food involves embracing all foods in moderation and honoring internal cues of hunger and satiety. It also involves becoming aware – without judgment – of the underlying feelings that trigger emotional eating behaviors.
To get started, try taking a normal bite of food and counting the number of chews you take before swallowing. Notice if this changes how the food tastes.
Mindful Eating is a Way of Life
You’ll notice the food you eat, its smells and textures and appreciate the contributions from nature and mankind that make it possible. You’ll also gain an appreciation for your health and the fact that you can choose a variety of healthy foods to support mental and physical wellness.
Mindful eating encourages balance, choice and wisdom — not restriction, obsession and deprivation. It increases your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues, so you can choose when to begin and end eating.
It also helps you identify and manage emotional eating patterns that often lead to disordered eating habits. It is important to note, however, that mindful eating is not recommended for anyone who is dealing with a current eating disorder or anxiety around food. They may need nutritional rehabilitation or counseling before trying this approach to their diet. It’s also important to start slowly with mindful eating, incorporating it into your daily routine over time.
It’s Not a Diet
While mindful eating is a component of intuitive eating, it’s not a diet. Diets often use fear-based tactics such as restricting calories to motivate people to change their eating behaviors. Mindful eating provides a more holistic approach to healthy, long-term weight management that focuses on tuning into your body’s internal cues of hunger and fullness.
It can include things like retraining yourself to eat more slowly, turning off the TV during meals and eliminating distractions like phones or laptops while you’re eating. But it also extends beyond that to recognizing when you’re eating out of habit or using food as a reward or punishment.
Gaviria and Habtemariam agree that mindful eating was never developed for weight loss or modifying body shape, but instead to help people feel more connected to their bodies and make healthier choices. Trying to trick yourself into eating better by using smaller plates or moving the candy dish farther away from your desk is not mindful.
It’s a Way of Being
The goal of mindful eating is to re-engage with and listen to your body. It’s not about judging yourself for having a snack, or even a whole cookie, and it’s definitely not about molding your body into a certain shape or size.
To practice mindful eating, focus on your food and the senses you have while eating: smell it, savor every bite, chew it well, appreciate the effort that went into growing or preparing the meal, and consider how it makes your body feel. Be sure to eliminate any distractions, make it an exclusive event, and take at least 20 minutes to eat each meal.
Keep a food journal to track what you eat, feelings, emotions, physical sensations and energy levels during and after meals. This can help you identify patterns and develop a more mindful relationship with your food. For example, you might notice that when you eat cookies, you are often looking for comfort or to distract from unpleasant emotions.
It’s a Practice
The idea of mindfulness is often associated with meditation, but the concept can be applied to daily activities and behaviors like brushing teeth, going for a walk or drinking cocktails at happy hour. Mindful eating can be as simple as taking a deep breath to connect with the physical sensations of hunger and noticing what your food looks, tastes and feels like. It can be as complex as reflecting on the journey from farm to plate and thanking those who prepared it.
It can involve limiting distractions during mealtimes and eating at the table with a set of quality plates, bowls and cutlery. It can also involve keeping a mindful food journal to help distinguish between emotional and physical hunger cues or increasing awareness of food-related triggers that cause you to eat when you’re not hungry. The key is to find a way that works for you and stick with it. Eventually, the practice will become more automatic.