Do you ever find yourself eating snacks while binge-watching your favorite show, and the next thing you know, you’re surrounded by empty food containers? Or do you sometimes eat in a rush so that you could use the remainder of your break time to play your mobile game without realizing how much you have eaten?
As our society becomes more and more advanced, we are faced with too many distractions that draw our full attention away from things that are more worthy of it, such as eating. When you allow these distractions to get in the way, like what happens when you decide to work, read, watch, or fiddle with your mobile phone while eating, you tend not to be fully aware of your food and continue to eat regardless of whether you are already full. This is a classic manifestation of mindless eating.
What Happens When You Don’t Pay Attention?
The habit of mindless eating makes food less satisfying and makes it easier for you to overeat because you tend to miss the cues that tell you that you have eaten enough; one of these cues is seeing how much food you have left on your plate.
In addition, science says that it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal to the brain that it’s full1. This means that if you are eating too quickly or not paying attention while eating, you may be taking in more food than you need because your appetite does not get shut off until you reach the 20-minute mark.
It is also noteworthy that we often have the urge to eat for reasons other than hunger—to satisfy emotional needs, to relieve stress, or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom2. When you are not mindful, it will be a lot more difficult for you to differentiate physical hunger and emotional hunger, increasing your chances of overeating during stressful situations and not figuring out the right thing to do.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is “an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness and experience of the food” 3. In essence, mindfully eating means developing an awareness of your experiences, physical cues, and feelings towards food.
Mindful eating can help you to2:
- Slow down and take a break from the hustle and bustle of your day, easing stress and anxiety
- Examine and change your relationship with food—helping you to notice when you turn to food for reasons other than hunger
- Derive greater pleasure from the food you eat, as you learn to slow down and more fully appreciate your meals and snacks
- Make healthier choices about what you eat by focusing on how each type of food makes you feel after eating it
- Improve your digestion by eating slower
- Consume fewer calories by feeling fuller sooner and by eating less food
- Make a greater connection to where your food comes from, how it has produced, and what journey it has taken to your plate
Along with the fundamental dietary changes, practicing mindful eating can be an effective way to become healthier in the long run without having to follow a restrictive diet.
How To Eat Mindfully?
Mindful eating is centered around behavioral changes that are very easy to follow. However, if this practice is entirely a new concept to you, you may want to start gradually by eating one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. To help you get you started, below are the simple tips3 that you can follow:
- Practice acceptance. Be aware of critical or judgmental thoughts about food, your eating habits, and your body. Acknowledge the less healthy choices you have and redirect yourself toward behaviors and preferences that will help you reach your goals.
- Make a conscious decision to eat. Before you eat, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” How hungry am I right now? Am I eating out of hunger, habit, boredom, or emotion?” If you figured that your urge to eat is not due to hunger, do something else to shift your attention away from food.
- Reserve time for your meal. Eat at planned times, so you don’t eat on the run.
- Avoid distractions while eating. Eat at a table, away from your work area. Turn off the TV and put away your phone, work, books, and other possible distractions until you are done eating.
- Appreciate your food. Start your meal by taking a moment to express your gratitude for the food in front of you.
- Breathe and take breaks between bites. Take time to have deep breaths and consider how you feel—hungry, satiated—before picking up your utensils again. Assess whether you are still hungry or it’s time to stop eating.
- Use all your senses to experience your food and drinks fully. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors, and smells of the food. Assess how much you’re enjoying the food and how appealing it is to you.
- Choose modest portions to avoid overeating. Eat small bites, and chew slowly. Appreciate that your food fills you up and makes you healthy.