What is “Mindful Eating?"
Mindful eating is the act of being conscious of the flavor, texture, and smell of our foods as well as our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as we eat. This requires one to eat slowly and genuinely relish each bite. It is not a diet, but mindful eating can help us achieve a healthy weight.
Eating mindlessly is an unconscious habit of eating without paying attention to what, how, why or how much we eat. Have you ever sat in front of the TV or computer and eaten a meal, but didn’t savor a single bite? This is an example of mindless eating and it can be triggered by external factors such as stress, food advertisements, or when the time of day tells us to eat. Mindless eating often includes “comfort foods” chosen to soothe our emotions, rather than to nourish our bodies. Eating mindlessly or while distracted, we tend to ignore our bodies’ “full signals” and consume excess calories, which can lead to weight gain.
To begin eating mindfully, start by asking some of the following questions:
- Am I hungry?
- Why am I eating this?
- Does my body need this? Does this food promote health or not?
- Pay attention to how full you are before, during and after eating.
- Notice the colors, smells, textures and flavors of your food.
- Investigate where your food came from: Was it grown on a local farm or processed in a factory? Who prepared it?
- Notice how the food makes you feel while eating it
- Be aware of cravings and what triggers them: Are you bored? Lonely? Tired? Angry? You may discover that you eat to mask uncomfortable feelings or emotions.
Keep a food journal of what you eat and your mood, hunger, and fullness levels before and after eating to increase your awareness of your eating habits. Once aware, you can make small changes one at a time, to help develop a mindful relationship with food.
- Eating seated (rather than standing at the fridge or counter)
- Eating undistracted (rather than in front of an electronic device)
- Eating with your non-dominant hand
(Fun fact: one of my clients broke her wrist and lost 8 pounds in the month that she used her non-dominant hand to eat.)
One benefit of mindful eating you may notice is an increased enjoyment of food as you slow down and savor meals. You may learn to enjoy healthy food and how it makes you feel. You may slowly begin to realize that unhealthy food does not taste as good as you previously thought and it does not make you feel good. You may also learn to eat when you are truly hungry and stop when you are full, but not stuffed. All of the above benefits of mindful eating may naturally lead to some weight loss.
Finally, as you start to enjoy the experience of being present as you eat, you may become more present in life and enjoy life more.
About the Author
Robin Atwood is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been serving the community surrounding SRMH for the last 17 years. She is Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and is based in the Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center where she provides nutrition counseling for maximizing nutrition and wellness to cancer patients and cancer survivors.