Before we talk about mindful eating, I think it’s fair to assume what we know mindless eating is. Ever finished a candy bar and wished you had just one more bite? Are you surprised when your hand hits the bottom of the popcorn bucket at the movies? Do you ever feel completely stuffed and miserable after you eat?
Yep, that’s mindless eating! When we think about what healthy eating habits we would like to adopt, 9 times out of 10 it involves a habit(s) surrounding mindful eating.
Mindful eating is simply 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? Were you eating quickly? Reactively? Were you even tasting your food?
Many people have heard of mindful eating, but where do you start without overcomplicating it? Here are 5 steps to helping you create more mindful eating habits!
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 always been proactively trying to prevent that feeling of any kind of hunger all these years.
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?
Give Yourself Permission
One of the biggest obstacles people face in sticking with their newly healthy eating habits is sticking with it. Why is it so difficult? Many think healthy eating habits “should not” include decisions where a non-healthy choice was made. And when it happens, they are “off their diet”, “off the wagon”, and either totally over-indulge or do the complete opposite, tighten the reigns on their diet even more after the fact due to guilt, frustration, or fear of weight gain. Is losing control and overly restricting yourself part of healthy eating habits? Exactly. So give yourself permission to have some moderation in your diet. You are human.
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. When we meet these needs by mindfully choosing to eat a little for pleasure, and have something that maybe isn’t usually in our every day diet, why do we see that as something bad and that we are “cheating”?
Variety, balance, and moderation play a very important role in your ability to keep a healthy lifestyle. You’ll find that by giving yourself permission to have something you enjoy whenever you need to, the cravings dissipate! You will find yourself thinking about food less and less. Are you thinking, “if I have [such and such] I won’t be able to stop!” That was then and this is now. Whatever you have, just enjoy it, savor it, don’t rush the experience and you’ll find very content with very little!
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.
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 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 take yourself out of hyperdrive.
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? Part of long-term healthy eating habits does involve some level of meal preparation.
Shift Your Mind: You are NOT addicted to Carbs!
Too often I get from new clients, “I’m addicted to carbs” or “I’m addicted to sugar” as a current obstacle they are facing. First of all, if you tell yourself you ARE addicted to something, you really aren’t leaving yourself any opportunity to think outside of these negative thoughts and putting yourself in a position to incorporate more productive thoughts and action steps!
If you kept telling yourself “you’re a loser and you’ll never amount to anything” you probably wouldn’t be too productive in life, right? Why is it different than when it comes to our eating? It isn’t. So stop telling yourself you are addicted to carbs or sweets. Instead, shift your mindset to being more productive, investigate it, research it.
Put all “good foods” and “bad foods” on the same playing field. How does your hunger, fullness, cravings, energy, sleep digestion, joint pain, or other symptoms feel when you eat any foods, whether it’s sugar, bread, red meat, cruciferous vegetables or other? If broccoli made you ravenous after eating it, what shift would you make? If red meat inflamed your joints, what would you? Same with specific carbohydrates or amounts of carbohydrates.
Take carbohydrates off the pedestal and look at it like any other food or macronutrient as to how it impacts YOUR body and you’ll be pleased by the natural decrease in the tug of war that once existed. One of my favorite statements about mindful eating is, to “aim to feel better after the meal than before you started”. This helps build the goal to “feel good” rather than “be good” with food.
Gage 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, and also under eat with healthy foods. 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 gage how much fuel you really need.
This may be difficult for those that have relied on anything but their own, born-with innate fuel gage to help them determine when to stop eating. 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).
If you had to rate your level of fullness on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being completely ravenous and virtually starving, 10 being physically sick because you ate so much, you want to aim to be a 5. A 5 is that neutral, comfortable place where you are neither “full” nor hungry, rather you are simply “content”. Have you been here? Do you know what this feels like? We ask you to try it. Rate your fullness level. You may not be sure and that is ok, you just have to start somewhere. Sometimes you will learn simply by not eating enough and your fullness level is more of a 4, or the opposite, eating a little too much where your fullness level ends up being a 6 or 7.
By doing this exercise, you may find that you are unable to determine what you are because you are eating so quickly-a new discovery! And an important one! If you find that you did not eat enough food, and you are still hungry and not yet content, it is very important to simply give yourself permission to eat a little more fuel to help you feel content.
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, I 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!