Do you ever find yourself eating a plate of food or a snack and not really noticing what you are eating? Then reaching for more because you don’t feel full?
Living a stressful, fast paced life can lead to these kind of unhelpful eating habits and there are a number of benefits to developing some strategies to improve mindfulness around food and eating. These include greater awareness of the physical sensations of hunger and appropriate responses to these sensations, including the ability to stop eating when full, reduced binge eating, greater control over food cravings and urges and improvements in physical health, including weight loss and better management of blood sugar levels.
Mindfulness is a practice based on being fully present with one’s feelings, thoughts and physical sensations without judging them. Mindful eating applies these principles to the experience of thinking about, preparing and eating food.
Monica Meadows, registered dietitian explains that “if we pay attention to what we eat, it tastes better and it’s more satisfying that if we eat by remote control.”
So how do we do this?
Meadows suggests that paying attention to our internal experiences and thoughts is the first step to mindful eating. “Think about what you’d like to eat. Think about how hungry you are and prepare a plate that reflects that amount of hunger. Then sit down and pay attention to the food – how it smells, how it feels in your mouth, how it tastes and whether you’re enjoying it. Try to pay attention to how full you feel. If you decide you’re full, just stop eating, even if there’s food on your plate.”
Part of mindfulness is gaining increased awareness of what our body needs and being able to respond appropriately without falling back on old habits that may include reaching for snacks that provide minimal nutritional value. Focus on the cues that your body is giving you and be aware of what your body needs. Is that sensation hunger or thirst, or anxiety? Maybe a walk or a drink of water is what it needs in that moment.
Being aware of self-judgment is an important part of mindfulness. We may judge ourselves harshly for making poor choices in our diet and this can lead to increases in this behaviour. Being mindful rather than judgemental about our food intake may assist in making better choices as it allows us to not restrict the foods that we eat, but to rather be more aware of them so that we are able to make choices that reflect health eating habits.
For more information and an example of a mindful eating script head over to the Fit Mind website for a useful place to start.
Written by Mates4Mates Psychologist Clare Mitchell