What is mindful eating?
An easier way to understand what mindful eating is, is by knowing what it isn't. Mindful eating isn't about carbohydrates, fat, protein or counting calories. It's different than a "diet", because diets tend to focus on the rules of eating — what and what not to eat or when and how much to eat — and are typically outcome-driven. These outcomes include weight loss, improved blood glucose values or lower cholesterol.
Mindful eating is more process-oriented. Simply put, mindful eating is being present with each bite. This approach to food is designed to focus on appreciating the experience by allowing yourself to be aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities made possible by the food you choose. You use all your senses and acknowledge how your body responds (likes, dislikes, indifferent) without judgment.
When you practice being in the moment, you’re likely better able to remove the distractions and focus on the process of eating. Eating when you’re distracted can prevent you from listening to the cues your body is telling you and can sometimes lead to overeating.
How do you know if you’re eating in a distracted way?
An easy trick to help tell is recalling what you ate during your last meal. What were the tastes, the textures, the aromas? If it’s hard remembering the details about the food, you might be distracted while you eat.
Turn off the TV, sit down while you eat, don't fixate on portion sizes or worry about how many times you chew your food before swallowing. This way, you can help move away from "mindless" eating and become more conscious about the what and why of your food.
How can you start a mindful eating practice?
Okay, you now know what mindful eating is and how to help tell when you are distracted while eating. How can you start to practice mindful eating at mealtime?
- Don’t judge yourself or the food. Start the process of eating by setting aside past experiences. This is usually the first hurdle. Being aware of our judgments is one critical element of mindfulness.
- Be patient. Being present moment by moment while you eat takes time. Instead of racing through a meal by taking big bites, chewing a couple of times and swallowing, the process slows down dramatically. This allows the experience to unfold instead of rushing through to get on to the next thing.
- Have a fresh perspective. Approach this process as if it’s your first time eating — have a taste, check out the food, feel it, smell it. You’ll be able to experience eating with new eyes and be open to what it means to be in the here and now.
- Trust yourself. You likely won't have the same experience with the same food every time. And your experience likely won't be like anyone else’s. Notice and appreciate how you feel and how you react to different foods.
- Let go of expectations. There is no specific, measurable outcome with mindful eating. No effort is required to make something happen. Just live in the moment.
- Find acceptance. This includes both positive and challenging experiences. It is what it is.
- Leave it in the past. Letting go of the thing we have become attached to can help allow you to experience the here and now without judgment. Who knows: you might even begin to like a food you've always thought you despised.
Eating mindfully begins with the first thought about food and lasts until the final bite is swallowed. It requires a commitment to change your behavior and encourages you to trust in your decisions.
What food will you eat mindfully first?
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