Mindful eating has been a hot topic in wellness recently. I google’d “how to eat mindfully,” and these are the types of suggestions that come up:
- Chew your food 25 times before swallowing
- Eat meals with your non-dominant hand
- Eat meals with chopsticks for a week
- Eat in silence, sit at a table, avoid all distractions
Hmm.. these aren’t too realistic for me. Imagine chewing each bite of a peanut butter sandwich 25 times. Or I’m thinking about eating the yogurt I had last night in class with chopsticks. Or having the option to eat lunch with a friend but declining because you MUST clear myself from all distractions!!
Even the more sound tips can be difficult because most of us don’t live in a ~zen~ room all day where we can practice them. Sometimes we have to eat while taking that call, while standing up, or while running to the next meeting.
So I wanted to share some mindful eating practices for the peeps living in 2018. We’ve got phones, the internet, social media, distractions and thangs. to. DO. But we can also find ways to be more in tune with ourselves to make eating more enjoyable and make our bodies feel good.
First, what are the Barriers to Mindful Eating?
- Going long periods of time without a meal or snack: this one is important. Between fasting and dieting, it’s easy to go long stretches without any fuel. This makes it extremely difficult to eat in a normal way where you can listen to body cues (relatively to you, not Joe Shmo on the internet) when your body feels like it’s being starved.
- Food rules: When your body is craving carbohydrates, listen! This doesn’t mean you have to eat cupcakes every time you do, but our bodies are extremely in tune with what we need before we try and outsmart it. For example, glucose is the #1 source of energy for our brains and muscles (maybe you crave carbs on a study bender or after working out?). If you have a “carbs are bad” food rule, this can lead to eating other foods that you don’t enjoy or don’t satisfy you, and then the thing you really wanted all along anyway.
- Lack of sleep + Stress: 2 hormones. Grehlin and Leptin. Grehlin stimulates hunger and leptin suppresses it. When we lack sleep, these levels get out of whack, making it more difficult to let the body does what it does best. Also, have you ever just ate food to stay awake? I know I have. I know my body really wants sleep, but sometimes you need to finish that paper and need to munch on something while doing so. Nothing to fret about, just something to be aware of. Oh and stress. Well, what doesn’t stress affect in the body…
So how can you start eating mindfully?
1. Throw judgments away
For real. You’ve gotta get all Planet Fitness on yourself and create a no judgment zone. If you realize you’re hungry 2 hours after breakfast, but don’t listen because it feels “too soon,” it’s not going to work. Any type of dichotomous thinking (black and white/good and bad) is counterintuitive. A study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology showed that participants ate more who anticipated a diet in their future.
A study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology showed that participants ate more who anticipated a diet in their future.
2. Recognize your hunger cues
We were all born with innate cues to tell us when to eat and when to stop. Think of babies. They don’t hear their tummies rumble and disregard it. Somewhere along the way whether it was dieting, or highly palatable foods, we learn to tune them out. Take note over a couple of days of ways your body tells you its time to eat. Is it a stomach rumble? Depleted energy? Does food start to sound tasty? Again, a lot of us only eat when we feel starved. This leads us to eat more than we need because our body feels exactly that- starved.
We sometimes think, if it tastes good it’s probably “bad,” right? Think about this. All you want is a peanut butter cookie. Someone brought it home for you, and it looks fantaaastic if you don’t say so yourself. But you have a cookie=bad thing going on, so you eat a salad instead. You then realize that didn’t cut it. So you have a million almonds. Plain of course. Then a bowl of fruit and granola. All of a sudden, you’re halfway through a carton of ice cream. Finally, something that satisfied. Except now you’re extremely full and uncomfortable. In this case, having that peanut butter cookie and moving on may actually be best.
There’s a great article on Refinery29 about what the satisfaction factor is and why it’s so important
4. Get Curious
A lot of us eat when we’re worried, anxious, bored, procrastinating, angry, excited, feeling shame, etc. While these aren’t inherently bad (you better believe i’m celebrating a birthday with a cake.. and a break up with some Ben & Jerry’s), it’s worth taking note. Some of us numb out our emotions with substances or online shopping. Some escape with food. Take a step back to notice what you actually crave: A nap? A phone call/text/hangout with a friend? A walk? A Netflix show? A cry? Listen and feed your body (and mind!) what it wants.
5. Mid-way check-in
These tips probably seem so strange to those who intuitively eat. But if you’ve been eating based off external cues all your life, it may take some practice. This one is to put your fork down halfway through your meal and see how you feel. Doesn’t have to be long or anything special, but it’s interesting to see how fast we can shovel food into our mouths without noticing how we feel. Most often, I’ll do this and realize I’m still hungry. Sometimes I realize wow I’m actually kinda full, and stop. The nice thing is, if I’m hungry even just 10 minutes later, I know it’s there, available, and I can have it. Remember, no judgement.
6. Weight Loss is a Difficult Driving Force
I saved this one for the end mainly because many “mindful” eating tips are weight-loss driven. Is brushing your teeth after dinner really a mindfulness tactic? Or a way to trick yourself to stop eating at a certain time. Is eating with a tiny spoon to slow you down mindful or a trick to get you to eat less? The whole point of mindful eating (in my opinion) is to let your body get to a place where it has the energy it needs to sustain your life. When you stop to notice your hunger level, your stress level, how the food is tasting and smelling, your body is pretty freakin’ good at getting you to a place it wants to be.
When people begin to eat mindfully again, there are 3 ways it can go. If you’re constantly dieting and trying to find ways to restrict yourself, you may gain some weight your body needs. If you’re falling into restrict/binge cycles, eating mindfully may lead to weight loss. It can also do nothing and just make you feel more in tune with yourself and make eating more enjoyable again.
7. Compassion Compassion Compassion
Last but not least, compassion (wasn’t sure you got that the first 3 times). Even when we eat mindfully, things happen. Again, it’s 2018 and we don’t sit in a yoga studio all day. Binges happen, we eat uber fast, and we go through meals without savoring each delicious bite. That’s okay. No rules, remember? Have self compassion for yourself, and know that there is no perfect way to eat no matter how mindful you are 🙂