Er, mindful eating. It's a wee bit abstract, no?
While the words make sense, it can be tough to grasp what “mindfulness” really means. The good news: I'm going to break down real life examples of mindful eating – what it looks like and how it's useful. Even more importantly, I will reveal one perk of mindfulness that you're going to love – weight loss.
Why we blow off mindfulness
In your fast-paced world with 101 things going on at any given moment, mindful anything can sound like a drag. And darn near impossible. Because you get it…when you're mindful, you're aware. You are calm, patient, and observant. You know, with calls to return and kids tugging on your shirt and dinner to get on the table.
Does this sound like some wishful zen thinking to you?
Bear with me. Mindfulness is also about being in the zone. You know the zone. It's when life sort of magically falls into place and sure, you've got a lot to juggle – but you're rocking it. Mindful eating isn't always slow-paced, perfect, or composed. It's more about getting familiar with a “bird's-eye view” of what's going on in your world.
That said, pressing pause or moving in slow-motion helps you to know what mindfulness feels like. So that you can reproduce that feeling in a pinch. That's where practice comes in. If you want to practice mindful eating and build some brain-muscle memory, try this:
- Slow down
- Take mental note of what goes into your mouth, including the yogurt that your child didn't finish… or the peppermint that you snagged when leaving the restaurant
- Take a moment to notice food flavor and texture
- Check in and ask yourself how you feel about eating
The dark side of mindfulness
It's no secret that with food comes emotions. Good emotions of friends and family. Stressful emotions linked to escape and indulgence. Fearful emotions of not having enough or not being good enough. Yup. It's all there.
Food is admittedly powerful. And why shouldn't it be? It's the thing that energizes your day. It's something you come into contact with several times a day – every day of your life. And if you want to get deep, food was one of the first ways you connected with your mother during infancy.
Because of this, mindful eating can expose where or how you feel vulnerable. But that's not all. It can also shed some light on your emotional triggers – which is a good thing.
For example, do you binge when you feel like you're losing control? Do you use food to “reward” yourself or as motivation? Answering these tough questions can mean less guilty food pleasures and a healthier relationship with your body.
Three ways to get started with mindful eating
Evelyn Tribole, the author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, outlines 10 principles of mindful eating. Here are three goodies to get you started:
#1 – Veto diets
Diets, no matter which ones you've tried, spawn a particular mindset. The act of counting, classifying foods, timing your meals, thoughts of willpower, and pacifying hunger are all roadblocks. They distract you from the one thing that matters: how you feel about what's going in your mouth.
#2 – Get comfy
For many of us, a hunger scale has but two settings: starving and stuffed. Often we pay little attention to the cues in between. This includes signs of hunger such as:
- A growling stomach
- Difficulty concentrating
Dr. Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat designed the hunger scale as a tool to determine if your hunger is based on physical hunger or emotion. Consider your hunger to be on a scale from 1-10. 1 is ravenous, 5 is satisfied, and 10 is sick.
Get comfy with being able to gauge your hunger as you explore mindful eating. Consider where you are right now. Hint: There's no right or wrong answer.
When you eat, use the hunger scale. Ideally you want to eat when you are about a 3 or 4 on the scale. Waiting longer can mean a binge-fest. And eating before you get to 4 or 5 might signal emotional eating.
#3 – Make peace
Allergies or food intolerances aside, our food culture has been one of restriction for decades. Restrictions and food deprivation cause rebound eating, leading to a love-hate relationship with food.
So, give yourself permission to eat the foods you want. Make choices based on your hunger, desire, and self-worth. While this might sound counterintuitive, Tribole explains:
Once you truly know you can eat whatever you want, the intense urge to eat greatly diminishes.
Tipping the scale with mindful eating
Mindful eating contradicts most diets. Instead of following rules, it asks that you trust yourself and honor your body. With mindful eating:
- You become aware of what you eat and why you want it
- You have less cravings and feel satisfied with your choices
- You enjoy food more, eat less, and feel empowered – rather than defeated
- You almost magically lose weight, because you're in the zone
If weight loss is your goal and you've tried multiple diets, give mindful eating a whirl. After all, you've got nothing to lose – and only a zen-like mastery to gain. Amiright?
Are you ready to give up dieting and begin mindful eating?
Daphne Olivier is a registered, yet unconventional dietitian who is the founder of My Food Coach, her nutrition coaching practice. She has a passion for using real food as medicine and the many ways it affects the body. Daphne works with individuals and groups, in person and online.