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Did you know that we spend close to two-and-a-half hours a day eating?
Yet how often do we actively experience as we eat our food?
For more than half of the time we spend on eating, we’re doing something else like working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with our phone.
While this type of multitasking seems productive at that moment, it can often leave us with serious chronic health conditions in the long run.
We do not prioritize the act of eating, therefore making it a passive experience without thinking or noticing that we’re chewing and swallowing the food.
This often leads to overeating or binge eating during meals.
And how often do we indulge in emotional eating?
From munching on a bag of chips to several cookies at odd times of the day, almost all of us have been guilty of satisfying our urge to eat due to an urgent emotional uplift, despite not being truly hungry.
Since the majority of people around the world have developed this type of eating habit, it has become the default mode of eating, generally referred to as ‘Mindless Eating’
What is Mindful Eating?
If you have read in the ‘How To Activate Your Mindful Mode‘ post, Mindfulness is a mode of mind we can operate on.
Operating in the mindful mode means we are actively paying attention to our experiences by becoming aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, without judging that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel.
As I had discussed in 11 Daily Activities To Experience Mindfulness post, operating in the Mindful mode can be easily summed up using it’s 3 objectives:
1. Your Intention should be to become aware of the present (and return to it again and again)
2. Your Attention should be on what is occurring in the present (on the thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise)
3. Your Attitude must be compassionate, non-judgmental, and curious in the present
If we apply these three objectives of the Mindful Mode to the act of eating, we can switch to Mindful Eating.
With Mindful Eating, your intention should be to become aware of the present activity, i.e., eating food. Your attention should be on the thoughts, feelings, and sensations in your body as you eat.
And lastly, you must maintain an attitude of non-judgemental curiosity about the food and how eating that food influences your mind and body.
Adopting a mindful eating habit helps us to develop a healthier relationship with the food that we eat.
It can allow us to think of alternatives to reaching for food when you’re feeling an emotion, or are trying to unwind, but aren’t truly hungry as we know that physical hunger comes on slowly, while the urge to eat due to emotions comes on suddenly and urgently.
Let’s look at what research says about how mindful eating can help to lose weight.
How can Mindful Eating help to Lose Weight?
Will power is one of the most critical factors attributed to losing weight, even more than the diet you choose.
Having the self-discipline to ignore your cravings and eating the exact amount of food your body needs can significantly reduce your weight and help fight obesity.
“Traditional techniques for tackling the obesity epidemic often don’t take into account the strong drivers of eating: negative emotions, cravings, and impulsivity, particularly in the face of highly palatable food,” says Elissa Epel, Ph.D. a psychology professor at the University of California.
This is where mindful eating comes in.
Elissa adds, “Mindfulness training gives us more control over these strong drives and makes us more aware of the triggers of overeating that come from outside of us.” [Source]
A 2017 review of studies, published in the Journal Nutrition Research Reviews, found that mindful-eating interventions were most effective at addressing binge-eating, emotional eating, and eating in response to external cues.
Research has proved that mindful eating rewires the brain to change our bad eating habits.
“When we hook people up to neurofeedback devices, we can see that the part of the brain that gets activated when we’re caught up in cravings and emotional eating is actually deactivated when we’re being mindful,” confirmed Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University. [Source]
Because of this shift in our attitude towards eating food, weight loss happens as a positive consequence of mindful eating.
A trial study on the impact of a 15-week weight-management program which included mindful-eating strategies concluded that greater weight loss is associated with increased mindfulness, and confirmed mindful eating as a promising strategy in weight management.
With so much evidence on the positive effect of mindful eating, it only makes sense for us to adopt the practice of mindful eating consistently in our daily life.
Let’s see how you can start mindful eating as well.
How to Start Mindful Eating?
Mindful Eating means being attentive to your food right from when you buy it, prepare and serve it, to when you consume it.
However, it can seem very abstract for a beginner to become a mindful eater.
These strategies can help.
The first step to practice mindful eating is to choose the food you allow to enter your body.
Create a list of all items you need based on their health value and stick to shopping from the list to avoid impulse buying.
Schedule Eating Time
No matter how busy your day may be going, nothing is more important than your well-being.
Mindfully eating your food will contribute to your overall productivity and well-being.
Schedule your daily meals and snacks so you can have the time to mindfully attend to eating, without the need to stuff yourself up because of hunger.
Decide to Eat Consciously
Before you eat something, ask yourself, “ Am I eating out of hunger, habit, emotion, or boredom? How hungry am I right now?”
Appreciate Your Food
Before you begin eating, take some time to appreciate the food, how it was cooked and the effort and care required to bring it on your plate.
Express gratitude towards the opportunity to enjoy your delicious food and your company around the table.
Eat wherever and however you’d enjoy eating the food.
Avoid any distractions from screens, or thoughts about work. Keep aside everything until you’re done with eating.
Savor the Food
Savor every aspect of the food including the colors, texture, and aromas while you prepare, serve, and eat them.
Take Small Bites
Stuffing your mouth with every bite is not going to help you savor the food. Take smaller bites and experience your meal.
Chew – Chew – Chew Thoroughly
Digestion of food starts from the act of chewing inside your mouth.
It is the most important process in the whole digestive system because special enzymes in our saliva initiate the digestion process when we chew the food properly.
Not chewing thoroughly leaves an overload of work for the rest of the digestive system which subsequently affects your body.
Slow Down and Breathe
Take short breaks in the middle of eating and perform a few deep breathing.
Slowing down with the eating process helps you to observe how much food you need to satisfy your appetite and avoids overeating.
Remember it takes 20 minutes for our brain to know that we are full.
Start Small and Listen to your Body
Start your meal with modest portions of food on the plate. You can always take more if you need it. Before taking more food, assess your body to understand how much more food you need to feel full and eat accordingly.
To begin with mindful eating, you can pick one meal of the day to focus on these strategies.
Once you get the hang of it, implement this practice into more meals.
It will take time to master the art of mindful eating, but it will be totally worth every effort and time you invest in it.
Mindful eating will help you regain control over your eating habits. It will enable you to build a positive relationship with your food which will work for you and not against your health and well-being.