I was first introduced to the idea of mindful eating about 10 years ago. A friend of mine had just returned from a week long yoga retreat where they had been taught and practiced mindful eating at every meal. She raved about the way she was able to slow down, how much faster she felt full and how eating had become a transforming experience. It sounded totally awesome – and like something you just did when attending a week long yoga retreat. But as it turns out mindful eating is something that when practiced as part of our daily lives can have a huge impact on our health.
So what exactly is mindful eating?
Let’s start with the opposite of mindful eating. Have you ever caught yourself watching a movie and munching away on chips when you reach for another and realize all of the sudden that you’ve eaten the entire bag? Or, maybe after a long day at work you come home tired, get the kids fed and down for bed and then dive into a bowl of ice cream, because you’ve had a long day and you feel like you’ve earned it? Have you ever bolted your lunch in the car while driving between meetings or bought the same food every time you go to the grocery store even though you know it’s not the best for you but because it is what you always get and is familiar? I have to admit to having done all of these things at one time or another.
Unless you are a mindfulness master (I’m a mindful master, I can mindful faster…okay, okay, sorry!) these are examples of very real scenarios that many of us go through. Mindful eating is about raising our level of consciousness when it comes to the way we think about food. It is important not only to pick healthy whole foods that will sustain and nourish us, but also to adjust our mindset when it comes to the act of eating. It is about the gratitude that we express for our food and recognizing what it took for it to reach our plate. It’s about slowing down and really appreciating what the food is doing for our bodies and tuning in to how it makes us feel. It’s about becoming more aware of ourselves to understand whether or not we’re even hungry in that moment. It’s about taking the time to look at our patterns and habits and critically asking ourselves if they are serving us.
What are 3 simple ways we can start practicing mindful eating in our daily lives?
- Think of the end at the beginning – before you put something in your shopping cart or your mouth take a minute to pause and think about how you are going to feel after you eat that food or have that second helping. Is this a food that you are going to feel guilty about after you are done, or one that will make you feel more energized and vibrant and maybe proud that you are making a healthy choice? Fill your cart up with the latter and there won’t be room in your fridge or life for the former.
- Express gratitude at every meal – You don’t have to belong to any kind of formal religion to take a moment before each meal to express gratitude out loud for the food you are about to eat. Somewhere someone grew the food you are about to eat. Without the sun, the rain, the soil, the farmers, you and the food would not be here. Meal times are a great break in our day when we can take a moment to remember that and be grateful for it. It can be as simple as just saying out loud, “I’m grateful for this food.”
- Slow down-Do you remember when we were kids an our well-meaning parents or grandparents told us to chew our food at least 32 times. I remember mechanically chewing my food and counting and swallowing kind of like it was a game. That is not what I’m talking about here. Next time you are eating try this. Pay attention to when you are chewing and swallowing and don’t scoop up the next bite with your fork or spoon until you’ve completely swallowed the last one. It sounds simple right? But if you are like most people it’s easy to put food in your mouth bite after bite without really even realizing if you’ve finished the last bite.
What are a few positive impacts mindful eating can have?
If you are new to the idea of mindful eating it may sound a little unconventional but while I’m not going to make any guarantees that you will lose 30 pounds in the next 30 days, there are real physical positive impacts that mindful eating can have on your health.
Did you know that studies have shown if you take two people – lets say a person who is regularly taking the time to slow down and practice mindful eating and another person who leads a highly stressful rushed lifestyle – and feed them the same foods their bodies are going to process them in totally different ways. When we’re chronically stressed out our body is in constant fight or flight mode causing our hormones to think we need to hang onto every bit of extra energy that we can (you never know when the next famine might hit and we’ll need it right?). So even if a person is making an effort to really eat healthy whole foods, but at the same time are under a lot of chronic stress they can find themselves gaining weight and becoming frustrated because they don’t know why.
Don’t wait until you sign up for that week-long yoga retreat. You can start practicing mindful eating now. It’s something you can do every day that doesn’t have to take too much extra time, but that can have huge positive impacts on your health and wellness. Happy mindful eating!
Be happy, be healthy, be well.
If this article is something that resonates with you stay tuned for my upcoming 10 Days of Mindful Eating Challenge. Sign up for my newsletter for updates on the next course being offered.
Healthy eating starts with creating a solid plan. Find my FREE meal planning guide here to help you get started.