Before we talk about mindful eating, let’s do a quick review of what mindless eating is:
- Finishing a meal or snack yet you don’t even remember eating it
- Not tasting your food
- Eating for other reasons other than biological hunger such as boredom, stress, sadness, because you saw it on the counter, or because habitually it’s “what you do” while watching tv, scrolling on your phone, etc
- Speed eating through your meal or snack
- Not being in tune with your fullness cues and eating until you’re overly full, stuffed, or sick
Let’s face it, today’s world operates at warp speed. With all the to-do’s, distractions, and stress levels rising in our daily lives, it’s no wonder that our eating gets sucked into the survival tornado too and we find ourselves totally out of touch with who we are, where we are, and what we’re eating at the plate.
This is where mindful eating is so very powerful. It is your braking system at the plate to slow down, tune in, and reconnect with your body and mind and keep your brain from keeping you from going down the unconscious path of mindless eating again.
Mindful eating is simply a practice of placing your full focus on the present moment, listening, and noticing without judgement. It is NOT about restricting food intake. For example, having a cookie instead of an apple does not make this “mindless”, rather HOW did you eat that cookie or HOW did you eat that apple is what matter.
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a few mini time-out’s during the day to just have a nice relaxing meal? And the return on 10-15 minutes of your time would include:
- Feel satisfied with less food
- Not feel like crap after you eat
- Reduce your cravings later in the day
- Increase your energy
- Improve your digestion
- Shift your body into relaxation state which primes the body for weight loss
Yes, mindful eating is THAT powerful!
If you want to have ANY chance of reducing your overeating, reducing cravings, reducing digestive upset, reducing STRESS, and enjoy your food and simply stop when you’re satisfied (symptoms that block your weight loss), mindful eating is a MUST. It’s like the sun for the universe, it’s the nuclei to the cell. It’s the center for everything that makes eating simple again.
Here are 5 steps to helping you create more mindful eating habits!
1. Stop and Pause Before Eating ANYTHING
This is a HUGE step, and probably one of the most important of all mindful eating habits. Sounds simple right? Not so simple to implement. This step is asking you when you have the URGE to eat, to stop, pause, and ask yourself, “Am I Hungry?”
There is a difference between having an urge to eat, and actually being hungry! This step will help you identify if you are eating for other reasons other than hunger, and what those reasons or triggers could be…maybe it is the sight of something, the free offer, the fact that it’s simply the time you ALWAYS eat.
It will also point out if you can really tell if you are truly hungry, maybe it has been a while since you experienced this because you have been trying to prevent feeling any kind of hunger at all.
This is a re-learning process about your body wisdom and its ability to detect hunger, and WHY you are eating in the first place. For many, this step alone does wonders for people, why? How can you create healthy eating habits if you do not even know why you are eating in the first place?
2. Take 3 Deep Breaths Prior to Eating
Give your body the chance to calm down. Deep breathing is one of the most common practice cultures around the globe use to calm the body and the mind. Injecting a few deep breaths before a meal is a great new ritual to build, and ANYONE can do it.
Here are the perks to relaxing the body prior to eating:
- Increases pleasure of your meal
- Helps you tune into your fullness cues
- Improves your digestion
- Slows down your speed of eating
- Reduces your cortisol levels
- Increases nutrient assimilation
- Improves your mood
3. Give Yourself Permission
Many think healthy eating habits “should not” include decisions where a non-healthy choice was made. And when it happens, they mentally freak out, feel they are “off their diet” or “off the wagon”, and totally over-indulge with a “what the heck” attitude.
The reality is, if you were to just mindfully eat whatever it was that you truly crave, that isn’t going to hurt you or your goals. What hurts your goals MORE is the extreme overeating response that YOU create after you have something you feel you “shouldn’t”! So give yourself permission to have some moderation in your diet, and eat it with mindfulness. This is way BETTER than adding a few hours or days of mindless overeating because you’re feeling guilty and stuck in self-loathing.
And please, do not call it a “cheat meal“, ugh, this is a personal pet peeve of mine! Variety, balance, and moderation are very important underlying needs for EVERYONE. You’ll find that by giving yourself permission to have something you enjoy something every once in a while, everything will feel so much lighter and sustainable around your eating.
4. Do Not Wait Until You are Famished to Eat
One of the keys to conscious, mindful eating is to keep your body adequately fed to avoid becoming ravenously hungry, which increases the likelihood that you’ll slip into an overeating cycle. Once you hit the ravenous level of hunger, your body is stressed and mindfulness is replaced by reaction and speed to ensure you eat – NOW.
It is difficult to simply stop when you are bouncing from meeting to meeting and check in to see if you are hungry or not. To get started, I recommend you set a timer if necessary, as a reminder to simply check in, take yourself out of hyperdrive and just be in the present moment so you can give yourself a chance to check in and see if your body needs to refuel. This timer does not serve as a “time to eat”, it is just a reminder to check in so 6 hours don’t go by and you’re ready to eat anything put in front of you .
What are the times of day you typically find yourself in a situation where you are hungry and could eat but did not HAVE anything to eat? Having something to eat is a key player in avoiding getting too famished. What is one snack you could have with you, that you could either buy or prepare to help give you some fuel to pull you through?
5. Gauge Your Fullness Levels
Just because you eat healthy foods does not necessarily mean that you are consuming the right amount of fuel for your body. It is very easy to overeat with healthy foods too. If you do not want to rely on a meal plan or food logging the rest of your life to tell you how much to eat, then we better get going on understanding more about our body’s own ability to gauge how much fuel you really need.
This may be difficult for those that have relied on anything but their own, born-with innate fuel gauge to help them determine when to stop eating, but I promise with practice you’ll get it. Many use rules (diets), food logging, or other external reasons to help them determine when to stop eating (your plate is wiped clean, movie is over, etc).
We help clients relearn their hunger fullness levels using a hunger fullness scale. On a scale of 1-10, numbers 1-4 represent hunger, 1 being completely ravenous and virtually starving. Numbers 6-10 represent fullness, 10 being physically sick because you ate so much.
The goal for meals is to feel a level 5 of fullness after meals.
- 5 = neutral, a comfortable place where you are neither “full” nor hungry, rather you are simply “content”. You can’t feel your stomach at all sitting heavy with food.
- 6 = full, you can feel the food in your stomach
- 7 = very full
- 8 = uncomfortable
- 9 = stuffed
- 10 = sick
I encourage you to get curious and try to rate YOUR fullness levels after meals!
Mindful eating habits take time to develop, so give yourself time, it is a process! If you are a little hesitant to try it on your own, we can help. I wish you the very best and hope that these 5 steps to mindful eating habits provide insight to a long-term strategy to success!
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