Rustle up some grub.
Grab a bite.
Go to dinner.
No matter how you say it, we all have to eat. Maybe that’s why there are so many different ways to express that eating is going to happen. We also use a variety of words to describe how we eat:
Think about how many of the words in the list above bring to mind a person eating very quickly. Most of them, right? How often do we use words that describe eating more slowly? It isn’t common to say that we eat thoughtfully, deliberately, or mindfully.
Mindful eating encompasses these ideas of really paying attention to what we eat. As described in Harvard University’s health newsletter, “Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.” In essence, mindful eating means the practice of really tuning in to the food you eat, the process of eating that food, and how that food stimulates your senses, including emotions and feelings of hunger or fullness.
Recent research has illustrated the positive effect on those who engage in mindful eating behaviors. A group of researchers completed four studies in which they examined, through a wide range of methods, how mindful eating might affect eating behaviors. The findings of all four studies indicated that mindfulness leads to reduced calorie consumption and increased likelihood of choosing fruit over sweets as a snack. These two factors led to the conclusion that mindful eating can encourage healthier eating. Mindful eating can also help to avoid development of chronic disease as well as provide a foundation for a healthy relationship with food. Additional research has found beneficial effects of mindful eating on aspects of health and well-being such as weight loss, improved glycemic control, higher fiber intake, decreased cortisol levels, lower anxiety, decreased inflammatory markers, and simply greater satisfaction from food.
Eating mindfully could also help you tune in to your body, noticing which foods make you feel great, and identifying when you feel hungry or full. You can adjust your eating habits to fit these cues from your body and likely find a state of improved health and confidence. This will all help to bring your eating patterns in line with words from the list above that indicate eating more thoughtfully and deliberately.
Mindful eating practices are very diverse, but can all contribute to a healthier lifestyle. It can be difficult to truly mindfully eat for someone who has never tried it before, but practice only makes it easier and more effective. Here are suggestions that you can choose from to help get you started:
- Put 20 minutes on a timer and stretch out a normal meal to take up the full time.
- Use your non-dominant hand to force you to focus on eating.
- Begin your meal with 5 minutes of silence as you eat, considering how that meal came to be all the way from the farm to the plate.
- Take small bites and chew thoroughly.
- When you find yourself wanting to eat something, consider whether you are actually hungry, or if there is something else that you might need.
- Remove distractions from your eating environment. This includes TV, radio, computer, and phone. Take a moment to prepare yourself for your meal as you sit down to it, uninterrupted.
- Focus on each food as you take the first bite. Note the aroma, the color, the texture, how it feels to swallow. Think of the nourishment is provides your body as it is digested.
After really experiencing your meals using mindful eating practices, think about the words you might use to describe how you eat. Maybe words like savor, sip, and taste are more meaningful than they were before. We all have to eat, so why not get the most out of “grabbing a bite?”
Harvard University. Mindful eating. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/harvard_health_letter/2011/february/mindful-eating. Published February 2011. Accessed November 2014.
Jordan CH, Wang W, Donatoni L, Meier BP. Mindful eating: trait and state mindfulness predict healthier eating behavior. Pers Individ Dif. 2014;68:107-111.
Harris C. Mindful eating. Today’s Dietitian. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030413p42.shtml. Published March 2013. Accessed November 2014.
Hand B. 7 ways to eat mindfully on Thanksgiving or any day. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/blog/blog.asp?post=7_ways_to_eat_mindfully_on_thanksgiving_or_any_day. Published November 16, 2012. Accessed November 2014.