Ever reached for the remainder of your chocolate bar and realized you must have already finished it? Or have you ever eaten an entire bag of popcorn without meaning to? If so, you’re not alone. Many of us spend a lot of our day in autopilot – mealtime, driving to work, washing the dishes. We are distracted, lost in thought, worried about an upcoming meeting or that last comment from our boss. And if this is happening when we eat, we might not notice finishing that chocolate bar or that bag of popcorn. Eating mindlessly means we might eat too quickly or eat for comfort instead of when we’re hungry, or forget to eat lunch and then overeat at dinner. All of these habits can add up quickly and result in unintended weight gain.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness on your experience in the present moment so that you spend less time in autopilot. To avoid overeating or making poor food choices, that sense of awareness can be practiced at mealtime. Eating mindfully results in slowing down and avoiding distractions, and gives us the opportunity to really taste the food. By building greater awareness, we can start listening to hunger and appetite cues and stop eating when we are satisfied.
Precision Nutrition is a program I use to help clients reach a healthy weight. This program promotes the importance of bringing awareness to mealtime in order to help reach your nutrition goals. For example, many of us eat too quickly which has consequences to our waistline. It takes about 20 minutes for the satiety mechanism to kick in which means for those people who eat quickly, it’s very easy to eat too much before the the stomach tells our brain that we are full and to stop eating. By slowing down we eat less.
The program also encourages participants to stop eating at 80% full – which, practically speaking, is defined as “eating until no longer hungry” instead of “eating until full”. This takes some trial and error and an enhanced level of awareness for satiation. What does ‘no longer hungry’ feel like? Or too full? Or too hungry? Do I feel the need to finish everything on my plate regardless of my hunger cues?
Tips for Mindful Eating
There are plenty of ways to start nurturing the awareness required to begin eating mindfully. Here are a few to get you started:
- Take smaller bites; chew the food completely, and taste it
- Eliminate distractions – put the laptop away and turn off the TV
- Put the fork down after every few bites; try eating with your non-dominant hand; or use chopsticks if you don’t regularly
- Before opening the cupboard or fridge, ask yourself “Am I really hungry? Or just bored?” Do something else like walk the dog or knit or play a game
- Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes and take that amount of time to eat your meal
- Before starting your meal, think about all that was involved to get that meal to your plate – the farmers involved, the transportation, the food preparation, etc.
We can learn a lot about mindful eating from my 1-year old niece Magnolia (pictured above!). She lets you know when she’s hungry and stops eating when she has had enough. Sure she sometimes gets noodles on her shoulder, but she doesn’t have any hang ups about needing to finish everything on her plate. And she definitely lives in the moment!