Food is one of the basic things we need in order to live. It is the fuel for all our body functions, and most of us love to eat it. Unfortunately, our relationship with food becomes complicated because of the conflicting information available on what we should or shouldn’t eat.
With new information coming up every day about consuming healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight, there are so many diet restrictions that you could end up confused. Should you stop eating altogether? This becomes the beginning of an unhealthy relationship with food. You either eat too much, too little, or eat all the wrong things.
You might obsess or get negative feelings whenever you think of food, such as fear, guilt, or self-loathing. One of the best ways to develop a healthy relationship with food is by practicing the art of mindful eating.
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What is mindful eating?
Also referred to as intuitive eating, mindful eating is the practice of engaging all your senses and paying attention to your food through all the processes of buying, preparing, and when eating. It is not about the rules and restrictions of dieting or to weight loss, but instead, mindful eating is about developing a healthy relationship with food and having complete control over your eating habits. You become fully aware of what, why, and how you eat.
When you decide to start eating mindfully, you use mindfulness meditation techniques, such as being present and aware of your feelings and senses with no judgments when selecting what to eat. It makes you recognize your triggers for hunger and how to identify the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
Are you really hungry or is it your boredom telling you that you need to eat? Do you have some ’comfort food’ you turn to when you feel low or stressed?
Emotional eating makes you develop an unhealthy relationship with food because you start relying on it to soothe your feelings instead of seeing as it is supposed to be; nourishment for your body. Identifying which type of hunger you are feeling will help you make a better choice of what and when to eat and find alternative ways to deal with your emotions. Mindful eating helps you develop a healthy relationship with food.
Many of us eat while distracted by other things, such as work or the TV, not caring what we are putting into our mouths. Mindful eating involves being fully in the moment of eating and appreciating the food.
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How to practice mindful eating
- Start with your shopping list
Understanding how to eat mindfully is not only about the actual eating process. To eat mindfully, you have to shop mindfully, after all if you don’t buy something, you won’t eat it. Make a shopping list of the things you need, and stick to it to avoid impulse buying things you don’t need, and especially sugary processed foods.
Be alert and turn on all your senses when you go to the grocery store to avoid being tempted by the advertisement language of nutrition labels. Identify and acknowledge your cravings without judgment but make the conscious decision not to buy them. Check the nutritional value of the things you buy. Also, avoid going grocery shopping when hungry.
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- Identify your hunger signals
Why do you want to eat? Another mindful eating technique involves identifying what is motivating you to eat. As stated above, there are two types of hunger; emotional and physical. Learn to identify the difference between the two by listening to your body. It will help you decide whether to eat or not and.
The two types have different signals. Physical hunger starts from your stomach. You might have some signs such as growling, lightheadedness, and weakness, which stop after eating. You aren’t picky about what to eat and can take anything. Physical hunger doesn’t go away with time but intensifies if you don’t eat. You feel full and satisfied after eating.
When feeling emotional hunger, you have an urgent need to eat that comes on suddenly. You will notice that you feel it when you think about specific foods, and it is always in response to some emotion, such as happiness, sadness, anger, stress, or boredom. Since you aren’t actually hungry, you won’t know when to stop and will eat mindlessly.
Most times, it is accompanied by feelings of guilt and self-loathing. If you don’t eat immediately after feeling hungry, it might go away with time. Practicing some of the mindful eating tips discussed below can help you identify which type of hunger you are experiencing.
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- Pay attention during preparation
It doesn’t matter where you are, at home or the office, there is always some way to prepare food before eating. It could be that you need to peel back the food wrapper, open the lid on a can, or cook at home. Take your time to be fully present in the process. Don’t eat food in containers and instead put it on a plate or bowl.
If you are cooking, choose foods you love. Look at the different colors and textures of the various ingredients as you chop or put them in the pan/pot. As it cooks, inhale the aromas, listen to the sizzling and boiling of the food, and allow your eyes and mouth to salivate in preparation to eat.
- Get rid of distractions
The food is ready, and it is time to eat. Before serving, get rid of any distractions that make you eat mindlessly. For example, switch off the TV and put away the book or phone. Sit down at the dining table with the intention to be fully present while eating and enjoy the food.
Eating with other people is okay because it makes you slow down and become more conscious of what foods you choose to eat.
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- Eat slowly to savor your food
You are probably wondering how to eat mindfully. What could be wrong with how you eat now? How many times have you finished a meal and could not recall how you even cleared the plate? This is probably because you did it on autopilot or too fast without appreciating the food.
You treat eating as a waste of time or a chore you have to do and not as the fulfilling experience it should be. Start eating mindfully by utilizing all your senses during the entire eating experience. Doing these things will help you develop a healthy relationship with food through mindful eating.
Here are some mindful eating techniques to use during your meals;
- Look at the food in front of you closely. Notice all the colors, textures, and shapes of the various items on your plate.
- Close your eyes and smell the delicious aromas. Try to differentiate the scents of the foods.
- Touch the plate and pick up your cutlery. Feel the heat seeping into your palms. If eating using your hands, feel the texture and shape of the food before bringing it to your mouth. Are the aromas making you salivate? Take a small bite.
- Taste the food in your mouth. What are the flavors in it? Is it sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or bland? Chew slowly and thoroughly, feeling the texture and savoring the feel of the food in your mouth.
- Put the utensils down between bites and listen to your chewing sounds. Is the food crunchy, soft, or hard to chew?
While using mindful eating techniques, the entire eating process should take 20 to 30 minutes. Monitor the levels of fullness to avoid under-eating or overeating. Using these mindful eating tips helps you stay present and in control over your emotions, allowing you to take pleasure in eating.
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- Check-in with yourself after eating
How do you feel? Is your stomach full? After eating, sit still at the dining table for a few minutes and check in with yourself to know whether you ate enough or under or overate. To know when to stop eating, listen to your body for signs of fullness and satisfaction.
- You feel physically full. If you need to unbutton your pants, you might have overeaten.
- You feel slightly uncomfortable and a bit tired but still energetic enough to continue with your daily activities.
Benefits of mindful eating
- It removes the fear of eating particular foods and brings back the joy of eating, thereby helping you develop a healthy relationship with food.
- You save money that would otherwise have been spent on extra foodstuff when shopping.
- It helps to stay healthy and lose weight because you consider the nutritional value of products before buying them, eat only when you’re physically hungry, and pay attention to your level of fullness while eating.
- It reduces the risk of lifestyle diseases associated with overeating and being overweight, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and some types of cancer.
- You experience reduced stress and anxiety because you no longer focus on knowing the newest fad diet to try out.
- You stop overeating, thus enjoy better digestion.
- You learn to control food instead of letting it control you.
- Taking your time to chew food thoroughly helps to reduce the chances of choking.
- It is the first step to learning to live in the moment.
As you can see there are many benefits of using mindful eating techniques during your meals. This practice helps you learn to appreciate food and why you need it, and thus, mindful eating is one of the best ways to develop a healthy relationship with food. You will no longer rely on eating for emotional satisfaction or see it as just something you need to do at particular times of the day. Understanding what motivates your eating habits and being actively present during the eating process helps you appreciate food and enjoy it. Reap the above benefits of mindful eating by starting this practice today.
Have you tried out mindful eating? What was/is your experience with it?
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