5 Steps to Practice Mindful Eating for Health and Meal Satisfaction
How you eat is as important as what you eat
As a busy working mom with a very busy mind, I fell into mindfulness meditation when I was looking for a way to clear my mind and be more present. In a world that encourages mindlessness, practicing mindfulness can have benefits, not only for your health and eating habits but also for those around you.
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. One of my meditation teachers described mindfulness through ABCs:
A = Awareness of what you are thinking, and doing and what is going on in your mind and body.
B = Being with your experience and avoiding the tendency to respond on autopilot and amplify problems by creating your own story.
C = Creating space between what you are experiencing and learning to respond more wisely instead of reacting unskillfully.
The benefits include:
- Lowered stress and reduced brain chatter.
- Improved focus, concentration, and attention.
- Seeing things more clearly and creatively.
- Responding more effectively to complex or difficult situations or emotions.
- Improved connection and compassion to yourself and others.
- Gratitude for good moments and grace for bad ones.
- Making peace with imperfection
Science: Your brain on meditation
Meditation helps train your brain to become more mindful in everyday life. Neuroscientists have studied the brains of meditators versus non-meditators and can see that meditators have more grey matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. Like practicing any mental skill (such as math or music), the more you practice, the more you change and create the connections between neurons and change the structure of the brain.
How can mindfulness help me eat healthier and achieve my personal best weight?
How you eat is as important as what you eat. There are many reasons we eat that have nothing to do with necessity. We eat in response to environmental triggers such as seeing something that looks or smells good or because of learned behaviour such as being told to always finish our plate as a child. We also eat in response to emotional triggers such as stress, loneliness, or boredom.
Using mindfulness to help check in on what, when, how much, and why you eat can allow you to become more skillful at bringing your full attention into your body to nourish all types of hunger (physical necessity, emotional hunger, and cravings related to the senses).
Mindfulness and eating disorders
Mindful eating is a very useful tool for anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders in the end stages of recovery. It can, however, be detrimental to use mindful eating strategies in the early stages of battling eating disorder thoughts. In the early stages, it is very hard to hear one’s own true self and trust intuitive hunger cues. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, exploring mindfulness of feelings with your psychologist is very useful. However, from an eating perspective, you will need to learn to trust your eating disorder dietitian to help you with mechanical eating first (a structured meal plan of what, when, and how much to eat). In a time when your weight is restored and you have reestablished hunger cues, exploring intuitive eating and mindful eating is a useful strategy.
5 Steps to Mindful Eating
1. Remove distractions
When you are eating, only eat. Turn off your phone, and television and move away from activities such as multitasking at your desk at work, driving, or excessive talking that do not allow you to fully be present in the act of eating.
2. Pause and breathe
We often move from one task to another without allowing space for transition. Take a moment to take ten deep breaths, closing your eyes to allow your body and mind to settle. Assess your physical sensations that indicate hunger (such as stomach emptiness, stomach growling, and desire to eat).
3. Give gratitude and use your senses
Before taking a mouthful, imagine the different ingredients in their original form and the people responsible for your food from farm to table. Give gratitude that you actually have food on your plate. Notice the colour, texture, and temperature of the food as you pick it up. Notice the aroma and taste as you place the food in your mouth.
4. Notice how your mind responds and eat to comfortable satisfaction
Eat slowly since it is not possible to savour your food if you are not relaxed. While eating, notice thoughts that arise and be compassionate and non-judgmental. Eat to a level of comfortable fullness and true satisfaction. (Don’t stop just because you think you should, let your body cues drive you.)
5. Pause and breathe again
Take a few more breaths before you finish eating and remind yourself of how the plate looked when it was full and how it looks now. Provide gratitude for the food itself and your ability to take time to nourish your body.
Post originally published in 2017 on the Calgary Herald Newspaper
Also published in the National Post Newspaper
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About Andrea Holwegner
CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker
Andrea the «Chocolate Loving Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more