Want to eat less? Maybe it’s time for you to try ‘mindful eating’ – a simple diet idea that really works. Let me explain how you can ditch mindless eating and start eating mindfully instead.
Mindless eating often leads to overeating. With mindful eating, you can enjoy your food more—even when you eat less.
Even if you’ve never heard the term mindless eating, chances are good that you’ve experienced it. Can’t remember what you ate for dinner because you were so focused on the television show you were watching? That’s mindless eating. Ever finish an entire bucket of popcorn at the movies and ask yourself, “Did I really eat all that?” That’s mindless eating, too. Mindless eating is what happens when you’re not really focused on what you’re eating—and when you’re responding to signals other than hunger that encourage you to eat…and eat. Since mindless eating often leads you to take in a lot more calories than you should, imagine what would happen if you turned “mindless eating” around, and practiced more “mindful eating” instead?
Mindless eating is what happens when you eat (and overeat) without really thinking about it. When you eat mindlessly, you don’t ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, or question whether your portion is too large or consider whether your food even tastes good. You just eat it. That’s because you’re not paying attention to your body’s internal signals—the ones that tell you that you’re hungry, or comfortably full. Instead, you’re responding to all kinds of cues in your environment that push you to overeat.
Let’s say you were eating a meal and your body told you that you were comfortably full. If you paid attention to what your body was telling you, you’d push your plate away—even if there were some food left on it. But if you were eating mindlessly, your signal to stop eating wouldn’t come from within. Instead, you’d rely on an external cue to tell you that the meal is over: the one that says there’s simply no more food on your plate.
Think of the last time you ate when you weren’t hungry, or ate more than you intended to. It happens all the time. You walk into a co-worker’s office and she’s got a dish of candy on her desk, so you grab a few pieces. You stop at a friend’s house to visit and you accept her offer of something to eat – even though you just had lunch. You don’t realize how many tortilla chips you ate with your cocktail until you realize the basket is empty. Mindless, mindless, mindless.
Mindful eating is just what it sounds like. When you eat mindfully, you try to become more aware of your internal signals of hunger and fullness, and also become more in tune with what triggers you to eat in the first place.
Once you do sit down to eat mindfully, you’re more in touch with the eating experience. This means you’ll enjoy it more and maybe eat less overall. You take the time to appreciate how the food looks on the plate, how it smells and how it tastes. If you’re with others, you take pleasure in their company. And if you’re eating alone, you take pleasure in being able to focus on your meal and enjoy it without distraction. As you eat mindfully and enjoy your meal more, you’ll learn to be satisfied with appropriate portions which will help curb the tendency to overeat. Eating less is really a by product of mindful eating, and for some it’s a wonderful benefit.
Be mindful of why you eat. One of the first steps in eating mindfully is to become more aware of what triggers you to eat in the first place. The idea here is simply to raise your awareness, not to judge yourself too harshly. An eating journal can be very helpful. When you feel the urge to eat, make a note of what triggered it. Are you hungry? Tired? Anxious? Bored? Also, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “no desire to eat” and 5 means “an overwhelming desire to eat.” After a week or so, examine your patterns. If you often eat because you’re stressed, you’ll want to find alternatives to eating to relieve your stress—like taking a walk, or calling a friend or writing in your journal. If you notice that your hunger level is almost always a 5 before you get around to eating, you’ll want to try to plan a bit better. For example, carry healthy snacks with you like protein bars or fruit or a small package of soy nuts.
Be mindful of when you eat. Do you eat when you’re hungry? Or do you eat because the clock says it’s time to eat? Hunger is an internal signal and one you should pay attention to. Just because the clock says it’s time to eat doesn’t mean you should—unless you’re truly hungry.
Be mindful of how you eat. Are you eating on the go, or at your desk while you work, or while you’re watching television? If you are, it’s unlikely that you’re paying much attention to your meal. Instead, try to be mindful of how you eat, and take the time to sit down and enjoy your food. Put down a place mat, turn on some music, maybe even dim the lights. Relax and take your time.
Be mindful of what you eat. When you’re mindful of what you’re eating, it means you’re choosing foods that both nourish you and appeal to you. Rather than acting on impulse, take some time to think about what you’d like to eat and what healthy foods will satisfy you. On the other hand, you’re not being mindful if you’re grabbing some fast food because it’s convenient, or a candy bar because it’s satisfying a momentary craving.
Be mindful of how much you eat. Practicing portion control helps you to learn how much food it takes to satisfy your hunger, which might be a lot less than the amount you want to eat. Since we tend to eat whatever amount we’re served, start by serving yourself smaller portions than you usually do. Dish up your meals in the kitchen rather than bringing serving dishes to the table. That way you won’t be tempted to eat more than your portion. You can try using smaller plates, which can make your portions look larger. And learn to stop eating when you’re comfortably full—even if it means leaving some food on your plate.