Do you remember the last time you ate? Wait, that’s too easy. Let’s say, do you remember the last meal you ate? You may have to think a little bit more about this, but it’s still quite easy. Now, do you remember the sensation of eating what you last ate? The answer is very likely, no. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to mindful eating.
When we eat, we often don’t pay attention to the sensation of eating because we are doing something else. That kind of eating is called mindless eating, and it is one of the contributing factors to obesity and other health issues.
The opposite of this is mindful eating, and it has been proven to have several health benefits. This article will walk you through mindful eating, its benefits, and tips on how to practice it.
What is mindful eating?
Before going into the concept of mindful eating, we first need to understand mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing on the present moment while being aware and recognizing what you’re sensing, feeling, and thinking. In simple terms, mindfulness is being fully aware of the moment.
The principles of mindfulness have proven to be useful in treating many conditions, like depression, anxiety, breathing problems, and many eating disorders.
With that said, mindful eating is based on the principles of mindfulness. Mindful eating involves paying attention and being fully aware of what we are eating and the sensations of eating. The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating, where we are not fully aware of what we are eating.
A report from the United States Department of Agriculture in 2011 stated that the time the average American spends eating in a day is two and a half hours, but over half of that time, we are doing something else, too. This means while eating, we also do activities, like driving, using a smartphone or personal computer, working, reading, and so on.
These other activities we do while eating means that we aren’t aware of what we are eating most of the time. So, I will ask again. Do you remember the sensations of what you last ate?
The most important benefit of mindful eating is that it helps to treat many eating disorders.
Benefits of mindful eating
Now that the definition of mindful eating is out of the way, you need to know some of the benefits associated with mindful eating.
The most important benefit of mindful eating is that it helps to treat many eating disorders. One of the most prevalent eating disorders is binge eating disorder. Binge eating is characterized by eating large amounts of food in short periods. This form of eating is typically done mindlessly.
Binge eating is one of the leading causes of obesity in our society today. Obesity increases the risk of many health issues, like heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
One way to treat binge eating disorder is mindful eating. Studies have shown that mindful eating can not only reduce the severity of binge eating episodes; it can also reduce the frequency. The implication of this is that with mindful eating, there will be less obese and generally healthier people in our society.
There are other eating disorders mindful eating can treat too, like emotional eating disorder and external eating disorder. Emotional eating disorder involves eating based on specific emotions, while external eating disorder is eating based on external factors, like weather, sight, and smell of food, etc.
Both of these disorders are related to obesity. Mindful eating practices can help treat these disorders, and consequently, assist individuals in shedding weight.
Tips on practicing mindful eating
Many have tried mindful eating and failed at it. I must say, mindful eating is not just something you can jump on and master in a day. You need to pay attention to certain things, and they are contained below. Some tips will also help you practice mindful eating, and those are contained below, too.
To avoid eating beyond your limits, start with small portions of food. Don’t add too much food to your plate, as that will only prompt your mind to eat it all. Start with very small portions, and if after eating all of it, you still don’t feel full, you can always add some more. You should also make sure you start with small bites. The concept of mindful eating is heavily based on being aware of what you are eating, and this is easier when there’s little food in your mouth at any given time. With a full mouth, fully appreciating your food will become more difficult.
Don’t rush when eating. Take your time. Eat your food slowly, and this starts by chewing thoroughly. Remember, the concept of mindful eating is based on being aware of what you are eating. You will not be able to pay full attention to the sensations of the meal if you rush through your food. Chew thoroughly, up until the point where you have a conscious feeling of the food’s taste. How long you have to chew depends on the food, but on average, it is between twenty to forty times.
Pay attention to your body’s hunger signals
One common mistake people make is listening to their minds over their bodies before eating. To practice mindful eating, you need to put more emphasis on listening to your body’s hunger signals. Before you can decide to listen to your body’s hunger signals, you need first to know what those signals are. The body’s hunger signals of some is a growling stomach, some feel it as lightheadedness, some as slight fatigue or tiredness. Pay attention to your body to know what its hunger signals are. And then prioritize listening to it over your mind’s signals. The mind is triggered by emotional signals, like stress, boredom, frustration, etc. The body’s senses, like sight and smell, can also trigger the mind. Paying attention to the mind’s signals will lead to erratic and mindless eating practices, ultimately leading to certain eating disorders.
This tip sounds very basic, but it is so often ignored. When eating, make sure your focus is on what you are eating. Remember that 2011 USDA report. Many people multitask while eating, like eating while driving, reading, or working. All these are distractions that take focus away from what the person is eating. These distractions mean it becomes harder to recognize the fullness point of the body. So, when eating, make sure you are just eating. Remove possible distractions. Don’t eat in front of the television or any other screen for that matter. There are inevitably going to be times where you have to eat in a crowded or busy place, and in such cases, you should try as much as possible to focus on your food. Block external distractions. It’s not that hard.
To avoid eating beyond your limits, start with small portions of food.
One of the most important tips for mindful eating is knowing the body’s fullness point. The reason many people binge eat is that they don’t know when they’ve had enough. Two hormones in the body regulate hunger and fullness, and they are ghrelin and leptin, respectively. Ghrelin triggers the brain’s hunger center when the body needs food. Leptin, on the other hand, signals the brain when we are full. The only problem is that it takes the body about twenty minutes to receive the fullness signals. It is within these twenty minutes that many people overeat. One way to avoid this is by studying your body and knowing when it has had enough. You can do this by slow eating and paying close attention to what you are eating. When you rush your food, it becomes difficult to know when you are full. If you practice mindful eating consistently and regularly, knowing when you are full will become far easier. With that said, it is one thing to know when you are full; it is another entirely to stop at that point. You need to discipline and control yourself to not eat past your fullness point.
Another tip to mindful eating is connecting more deeply with your food. Don’t just think of your food as an end product. Think more of where it came from, how it is grown, its cultural roots, and how it is prepared. Before eating, take a moment to recognize and acknowledge everyone and everything involved in getting that meal to your table. You should also make sure you fully recognize the sensations the food produces. When you chew, the flavors of the food burst out. Take your time to savor in these flavors completely. One easy practice is trying to recognize the seasonings and individual tastes in the meal. That way, you are teaching your body to appreciate the food you are eating.
Mindful eating starts right from the moment you shop for foodstuffs. Before buying any food item, consider its health benefits. It is advisable to make a list of foodstuffs you need to buy, healthy foodstuffs for that matter, and then stick to it. Don’t just shop impulsively. You should also make sure you limit your intake of processed and junk food. The tendency of overeating with these types of foods is higher, and they contain so many calories per gram consumed. While you do need to eat healthily, it is worth noting that you do not need to make radical changes to your diet in the name of mindful eating. Mindful eating is not a diet in itself; it’s a way of eating the diet. However, certain foods increase the risk of overeating, which goes against the principles of mindful eating.
When eating, make sure your focus is on what you are eating
Mindful eating is not something you can just learn in a day or two. It takes time, consistency, and discipline, making it very frustrating for many beginners. The root of mindful eating is mindfulness, so mastering the principles of mindfulness, through certain exercises and meditations, will go a long way in helping you refine your mindful eating practices.
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Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and yogini. Trying to beat down stress and achieve peace of mind through the daily practice of Yoga. After a while in yoga, I embraced it wholy, and it changed my lifestyle upside down. Now I want to give back , helping others on their journey.