Mindful eating. Are you doing it?


woman eating 800x258

It sounds a bit silly I know! How can we be anything other than mindful when we eat? Obviously we know we are eating! But how much attention do you actually pay to what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, the sensations it evokes, the feelings you get from it?

Eating mindlessly is contributing to ever-expanding waistlines across the world and yet it’s so easy to address

So let’s take a look at why it has become such a problem. There have been numerous studies conducted recently, one of which involved giving people larger plates and bowls, larger portions in restaurants, bigger packets of food, resulting in the consumers eating approximately 30% more than they would usually. However when questioned afterwards over 70% of people believed they had eaten the same amount as they normally ate, and 94% firmly believed that they were not influenced by the package, portion or plate size. So clearly people are simply not aware of their portions. The findings suggest that external factors can cause people to eat mindlessly¹, which was backed up by another study which found that watching TV or playing computer games leads to increased food intake. It is suggested that the distraction could be inhibiting the food attributes such as flavor, texture and appearance, which delays the trigger to tell us we’ve had enough. Distraction also makes us less likely to remember what we’ve eaten and so we snack more frequently.

Whatever the scientific reasoning is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting into a practice of mindful eating to both avoid over consumption, but to gain maximum enjoyment of the foods we choose to eat.

Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention and reflects an ancient Buddhist meditation practice. Simply put it is being aware of what you are eating, taking notice of the sensory attributes – taste, texture and smell. Recognising your specific likes, dislikes, paying attention to feelings of satiety or indeed continued hunger. Mindful eating encourages your mind to listen to your body’s inner wisdom which will guide us to make food choices that serve our body, foods that give us enjoyment, make us feel satisfied and nourish us well.

 

Tips for mindful eating

 

  • Before reaching for a snack, stop and question yourself for 30 seconds. Is it genuine hunger or are you perhaps thirsty, bored, stressed? Address the specific trigger. Drink water, go for a walk, put some washing on to distract from the false feeling of hunger.
  • Don’t eat on the go. You are less likely to pay real attention to what you are eating and you won’t enjoy it as much.
  • Resist eating from a large packet or box – serve your portion in a bowl or on a plate to avoid unnecessary large portions.
  • Use smaller plates at home for better portion control. We tend to fill the plate regardless of size, so a smaller plate reduces the volume but still looks satisfying to the eye.
  • Remove distractions. Don’t eat while watching TV, using your computer or phone.
  • If you rush your food, set a timer for say 20 minutes, so you know you have that length of time to make the meal last.
  • Try eating with your less dominant hand or with chopsticks to slow down eating and to make you pay closer attention.
  • Put your cutlery down from time to time to slow down the rush.
  • Chew well. It is generally recommended to chew enough times to turn the food into ‘mush’ to allow for easier digestion. It also naturally slows down your pace and you are likely to feel fuller quicker.
  • Recognise when you are full and be happy to leave the remainder on your plate.
  • Keep a food diary. I do this with nearly all of my clients. It serves to keep us aware of the food we are eating but also my version serves as a guide to recognize when certain foods are not nourishing us well, ie digestion issues, cravings, bloating etc.

    We can’t expect to be perfect at this every day. We all get busy, we all eat out and we don’t always have control over what is served or available to us. However these practices can be incorporated for the majority of the time. Not only does it serve to keep us on track but allows for greater enjoyment.

    As most of you know I love dark chocolate ♥. About a year ago I started practicing mindful eating (though I’m not perfect at it), but what I particularly noticed was how much it increased my pleasure of eating a chunk of it. Instead of being gone in a few seconds after a couple of chews, I now savour it. I bite it in half and let it melt on my tongue, sucking it to allowing the taste to intensify. I know this sounds weird but seriously, try it! That same chunk now lasts over a minute and I get so much more enjoyment from it!

    Once you start to eat mindfully, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it becomes second nature, so it’s not something that becomes ‘another thing you have to do’. It’s effortless, it’s free, it helps weight loss and weight management and it increases enjoyment. What’s not to love about it?

    Do you practice mindful eating or do you tend to throw your food down without giving it much thought? I’d love to hear from you.

    1 Wansink B (2010). From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiology and Behaviour 100:454-463