Eat More Mindfully
by the American Diabetes Assocication, October 2014
Do you eat so quickly that you usually end up stuffing yourself? Or do you tend to eat in front of the TV, and before you know it, your meal is gone? If these situations sound familiar, you are not alone.
Food is a central part of our lives, and some research has shown that that we make more than 200 food-related decisions every day. There are countless restaurant options and foods to choose from at the grocery store. We see food advertised everywhere - on television, online, and many other places as well.
With all of these triggers telling us to eat, it’s easy to forget the essential purpose of our food: to nourish our bodies and provide us with energy. If you have trouble controlling cravings or overeating unhealthy foods, it may help to work on being more mindful when you eat.
What exactly is Mindful Eating?
Many people eat mindlessly at meal time or when they snack. It’s common to eat while watching television, while on the computer, and while driving. When you eat mindfully, you slow down the process of eating, turn off autopilot, and focus on the present moment. Increasing your awareness of the present moment helps you become more conscious of your food choices, and requires you to use all five of your senses. This helps you truly taste and enjoy your food – without stuffing yourself. When you eat mindfully, it also makes you more aware of your body’s cues that tell you how hungry or full you are.
There is a growing body of research in the area of mindfulness and mindful eating. It is a promising strategy for people who struggle with their weight, cravings, and binge eating. One study also found that mindful eating helped people with type 2 diabetes improve their food choices, lose weight, and lower their A1C over 6 months. The researchers from that study concluded that training in mindful eating could be a good way for some people with diabetes to improve their food choices and portion control, in addition to diabetes education.
Mindful Eating at Home
Like anything, learning to eat mindfully takes practice. If you want to give it a try, pick a time when you don’t have a lot of distractions. Start by choosing a single food that is not very tempting to you. (A piece of fruit, a carrot, or a raisin might be a good place to start).
Before you even put the food in your mouth, look at it closely. Notice the color, the texture, and the smell. Then, put the food in your mouth and let it sit on your tongue. Use your tongue to explore the shape and texture. You may even want to close your eyes at this point, so you can solely focus on the food in your mouth. Then, start to chew slowly and notice the flavors, textures, and smells that come in and out as the food breaks down.
All this time, stay in the present moment. Think about the current taste of the food instead of anticipating the next bite or having more. Before reaching for another bite, notice whether you are doing so out of craving or because you are physically hungry.
Once you’ve gotten a feel for it, try eating more mindfully at one meal or snack each day. Over time, you can gradually make it a habit that you practice at all meals of the day. You’ll find that you are actually tasting your food, enjoying meal time, and are more in control of what and how much you eat.
Tips To Beat Mindless Eating
Here are a few practical tips to help you eat more mindfully.
- Sit down to eat. Avoid distractions like reading, the television, or the computer at meals and snacks. Don’t multi-task while you are eating.
- Consciously tell yourself to slow down before eating. Take smaller bites and chew your food well. To slow down the process of eating, try putting your fork down between bites. You can also try eating with your opposite hand.
- Use the hunger rating scale before you decide it’s time for a meal or a snack. It can help you recognize if you are simply having a craving, wanting to eat due to an emotion, or if you are actually hungry.
- Remember that you can’t eat what’s not there. If you have trouble with overeating or mindlessly eating certain foods, try not to buy them. Save them for a special occasion or just enjoy them when you are out to eat.
- Eat from a smaller plate or bowl. Doing so actually makes us feel like we are eating more. When you eat from a larger plate or bowl, most people tend to fill it up and eat more.
- Be mindful when choosing your foods. Don’t just grab the first thing you see. Tune in to what you want, and consider whether your choice will provide you with some nutrition.
- Out of sight, out of mind is another concept that can work. Put healthy snacks on the counter where you can see them. Put healthy foods in the front of your pantry and refrigerator too since you are more likely to choose the first thing you see.
- Explore whether certain emotions trigger you to eat. Check out our information on emotional eating.
Eating mindfully may be a good way to help you enjoy your food more and control portions. If you have family members that you normally eat with, try out mindful eating together. Getting everyone on board can help!