How to Practice Mindful Eating: Benefits and Impact on Well-Being

The last few years you may have noticed the term mindfulness seeping into our collective consciousness, but what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is purposely paying attention to the present moment without passing any judgment. It’s also being aware and aeccepting your thoughts, emotions, and sensations, rather than trying to change them. It’s an act of self-care and with regular practice, being mindful cultivates a way to free yourself from reactive or habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. So what does it mean to eat mindfully and what are mindful eating benefits as they relate to health and nutrition? Funny you should ask — let’s head move on to the next section.

Do you pay attention when you eat?

Before we dive in, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s no right or wrong way to eat — everyone has their own unique experience and relationship with food. However, the majority of us tend to lack awareness when we eat. Our busy lives often require us to juggle several tasks at once, so it can feel really uncomfortable to do nothing else but simply eat.

Think about it, when was the last time you ate without distraction? No laptop, no cell phone, no newspaper, nor daily commute? You may be surprised to learn that all those subconscious eating habits can lead to unnecessary weight gain and prevents weight loss.

mindless eating emily candy chocolate tv remote

Emotional eating — how do you feel?

Do you find yourself eating when you are stressed, happy, depressed, tired, anxious or bored? The act of eating provides temporary relief from an upsetting emotion or feel like a reward for doing something you were putting off, leaving you feeling both physically and emotionally unsatisfied. Not only does the emotional issue remain, but we also feel guilty for overeating. Uncomfortable thoughts and emotional states can prompt us to eat and keep us stuck in an imagined state of hunger. Fill your stomach and soul with these actionable mindful eating tips and gain control over food and feelings.

5-Step mindful eating exercise

  1. If you reach for foods when you aren’t really hungry, pause and check in with yourself. Ask, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired?”
  2. Should the above be the case and you’re not actually hungry, practice alternative activities: Take a walk, call a friend, dance to your favorite music, have a cup of tea, read a book, paint, cuddle a pet, etc.
  3. Food journaling can help track your food intake. Log the time of day, where you are, serving size, and the emotional state your in. Soon you will start to notice behavioral patterns.
  4. Learning to feel emotions can be daunting. Learning to not obsess about or suppress emotions, allows difficult feelings to subside and lessen their hold on you. After a while, the process becomes quite empowering.
  5. Use a hunger/fullness scale to help you differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger

Stop stress eating and take a breath

When we’re stressed, our bodies produce more cortisol — the fight or flight hormone — and we experience an increase in blood sugar levels. This leads to strong cravings, slower digestion, an imbalanced bacterial gut cultures and decreased detoxification of the body’s impurities. Taking a few deep, steady breaths before eating activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which aids digestion. It does this by increasing digestive enzymes that help break down food so your body can absorb nutrients. Eat small, frequent meals to support the digestive process. A good rule of thumb is to eat before the stomach is 20% empty and stop eating before the stomach is 80% full.

Mindful eating tips

We’re all guilty of watching TV or driving to work, completely unaware that we’ve just demolished a bag of chips or a package of cookies. Separate your meal and snacking time from other activities so you can slow down and register exactly what you ate. Recent studies have proven that eating slowly can help prevent weight gain.

1. Eat without distractions

Just eat. If you can’t step away from your desk, close your computer or put it on a page that won’t distract you.

2. Put your fork down

It takes about 20 minutes for your body to register it is full. Halfway through the meal, set your cutlery to one side and check in whether you are indeed still hungry.

3. Last bite threshold

Practice putting your napkin on your plate, putting leftovers away, or pushing your plate away to signal that you are satisfied.

4. You don’t have to clean your plate

You shouldn’t feel obligated to eat everything on your plate if you were served too much. Ask if you can pack food away for leftovers or if anyone at the table is still hungry.

5. Just say no

Just because you’re offered cake or treats at the office or at an event, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. A friendly no should suffice and if you’re asked again, then just say you aren’t hungry.

 

chocolate banana ice cream healthy sugar free dessert

Honor your hunger

Food is essential for life. Imagine if you held your breath for more than a minute, you would naturally be gasping for air. Now imagine if you didn’t feed your body enough, this sets you up to binge and your body will, in turn, hold on to every calorie to help you survive. If you don’t eat enough, your metabolic rate sinks to conserve energy. So teach your body it’s ok to feel hungry, feed it well regularly, and it will keep your metabolic fire burning.

In short, don’t skip meals. We recommend three meals and one snack per day. It’s also useful to plan ahead for healthy meals to avoid impulsive decisions made when hangry — think back to that time at the grocery store when you skipped lunch and ended up buying five packs of M&Ms at the checkout. Don’t let hanger control you.

The pleasure principle

On top of nourishing your body, food is meant to be enjoyed. It’s a big part of our culture, it’s an art and it’s a basic human right. Most of us are privileged enough to be able to choose what we want to eat and when. When eating mindfully, truly relish and experience your food. Invite all your senses to join in the journey — savor, smell, feel the texture/consistency, and really taste your meal. To do this involves being aware of physical hunger and satiety cues that guide your decision to begin and stop eating.

Make time to appreciate your food, even if it’s just five minutes, because doing so can help you better manage your weight — science says so. A study by the University of Texas linked the health benefits between the pleasure of eating with weight management. In the study participants with high cholesterol levels followed a low-fat diet but were allowed to splurge on a milkshake and ham-cheese sandwich every other day. Findings showed that participants didn’t see any rise in their cholesterol levels. One theory speculated that this was due to the pleasure and celebration of eating, which in turn kept fat storing hormones such as cortisol at bay.

Remember, when hunger strikes…

  • Ask yourself what you really want to eat and what will make you feel good long-term
  • Don’t settle — if it’s not good, don’t eat it
  • Pay attention (remember your taste buds are on your tongue, not in your stomach)

The mind-body connection

Learning to trust your intuition and listen to your body will become more and more rewarding. You’ll notice the benefits of mindfulness from eating less, enjoying your food more to weight loss and a calmer mind.

If you’re looking for another way to become more mindful, yoga is an excellent way to tune into your body and mind, fostering mental clarity and calm. With more practice in mindful eating, yoga and breathing, you’ll be able to instill a greater awareness and make better choices going forward.

8fit now offers yoga classes in partnership with Yogaia. Sign up for a Pro membership to take advantage!