Mindful Eating: 4 ways to improve your eating habits
Mindful eating may seem like something only people who have an abundance of spare time do or what you do at a special health retreat.
We are here to delve into what exactly is mindful eating and how we can implement mindful eating practices into our everyday lives, without spending 5 minutes to eat one mouthful of porridge.
Mindful eating is a formal practice used to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating.
It means focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
It is often used to help treat eating disorders and depression.
Studies have suggested that those who practise mindful eating are associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms and have a lower likelihood of having depression.
Fundamentally, mindful eating involves:
- Eating without distraction
- Honouring your physical hunger cues and only eating until you are full
- Differentiate between true hunger cues and non-hunger triggers for eating
- Engage all your senses with eating, noticing colour, smells, textures and taste
- Being aware of the effects food has on your feelings/mood
- Appreciating your food and where it has come from
Engaging in these points can help you go from wandering into the kitchen, looking through all the cupboards until you find something to eat where you’re thinking ‘that will do’ and then eating it as you do something else, to having conscious thoughts around food, being present with your meals and feel more satisfied in your relationship with food.
Here are 4 ways to improve your eating habits.
1. Allow your body to catch up with your brain
The body sends its satiation signals approximately 20 minutes after the brain has recognised that we are full, which is why it is so easy to unconsciously overeat.
If we are rushing around, eating whilst distracted such as watching TV we often eat far quicker, without any conscious thought and therefore eat beyond fullness, as we have zoomed past that cue.
Being slow and intentional with our food allows our body a chance to catch up with the brain’s signals that we are full and not eat beyond the point of what our body wants or needs.
This could be done through:
- Eating every meal at a table
- Properly chewing each mouthful
- Not watching TV/reading whilst eating
- Putting your knife and folk down every so often to slow down your pace of eating
2. Understand your personal hunger cues
Are you eating due to responding to your body’s want or through an emotional need?
Eating is often associated with emotional triggers which means we aren’t always eating because we need to, it is because we have experienced an emotional cue which we connect to being ‘hungry’.
When we are sad, bored, happy – all of the emotions! It is easy to mistake those feelings for hunger.
Instead, consider looking out for when you actually feel hungry and when you start to notice your energy dip rather than feeling an emotion and mistaking that for wanting something to eat.
This takes time and it takes practice.
We need to be intune with our own emotions and thoughts so that we can begin to identify triggers and what our usual patterns are.
For example, if you have had a stressful day, do you find yourself reaching for a specific food group?
When you’ve got the afternoon to yourself over the weekend, are you always rummaging through the cupboards to find something to eat?
It is likely that you are doing this due to an emotional cue, rather than a physical hunger cue.
Over the next week, when you catch yourself in these moments of emotional eating, pause, think about what the trigger is. When you then find yourself experiencing that same trigger, you might be able to stop and think about what you actually need to do to help manage that feeling and situation to have a positive outcome, rather than eating something you regret later.
3. Eating without distraction and engaging in all your senses
One of the simplest but most effective things we can do for informal mindful eating, is to sit down at a table to eat your food.
Grabbing something to eat in the car;
Or picking on bits as you make your children dinner.
These are sure ways to mean you are not having a conscious thought over what you’re eating as you are so distracted.
The nutritional quality of your food is likely to be less than if you set aside that time to eat and be present with your food.
If doing these for 3 meals a day feels out of reach, firstly, ask yourself why? Why is your day so busy that you can’t find the time to sit down and eat? Are there any controllable factors within this that you can change? Is it due to not setting and honouring boundaries around work hours? Is it due to poor organisation of your day?
If it is not in your control, can you start by prioritising one meal?
If you can get others involved too, this is great! For example, as a family you are always going to sit down and have dinner together. No TV, no phones, no distractions from your food and each other.
Nail this as a non-negotiable and then you can begin to work on the other meal times.
4. Understand your motives
With this, we do not mean your motivation to eat a certain diet.
This is talking about what motivates you to eat what you do – is it emotional eating or informed eating?
Similar to understanding your personal hunger cues, knowing why you eat certain foods can be helpful in building a better relationship and managing your food intake.
Is this bowl of fruit mentally, physically or emotionally pleasing? Why? What are you getting from eating this?
Is this cookie mentally, physically or emotionally pleasing? Again, ask yourself why it is that? What is your reason for eating this right now?
Even if it is emotional and you are eating it due to being stressed, for example, the more you actually think about this, the more equipped you are to combat emotional, random eating and have a diet consisting of mindful choices.
We can use one or all of these pointers to help us practise mindful eating, but the biggest takeaway to have from this is that you need to make it manageable and work with your everyday life.
If you currently feel as though all of these points are things you need to work on, pick just one to focus on initially.
Spend time mastering that, see how it makes you feel, see how it influences your relationship with food.
Once that is ingrained into your routine and is non-negotiable, try layering in the next step.
Simple things to implement now:
- Sitting down at a table for every meal
- Don’t eat and do something else (e.g. work, watch TV)
- When eating, think about what triggered you to eat? Hunger, the situation, an emotion?
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