In the average day, we make numerous food decisions — more than 200! — but we tend to be aware of only a small portion of them. There are a lot of reasons why we make the food choices that we do. Sometimes we eat because it is “time” to eat or everyone around us is eating. Often we eat in response to emotional cues (whether we are sad, scared, angry, stressed, etc.) or for reasons such as convenience, taste, comfort or nutrition. Sometimes we find ourselves eating simply because the food is there.
In a world that encourages multitasking, occasional rushed and mindless or distracted eating is inevitable. However, you may benefit from approaches to eating that help you reconnect with and pay attention to your internal cues — such as hunger and fullness — to guide your decisions to eat or to stop eating. Many popular diets teach people to ignore these cues and rely instead on the strict set of rules that are touted by that diet. Intuitive eating and mindful eating are two ways of eating that can help you ditch the “dieting” approach and enjoy a healthy relationship with food.
Intuitive eating is a broad philosophy that includes mindful eating, respecting your body and your internal cues, and eating in a way that is non-judgmental. As small children, we all had the ability to regulate our intake based on feelings of hunger and fullness. A variety of factors, including societal signals and norms, have led most of us to lose touch with those internal cues somewhere along the road. Mindful eating involves paying attention, on purpose — being in the present moment when you are eating.
First Steps on the Path to Mindful Eating
People who eat mindfully are less likely to eat in response to negative emotions, more likely to eat smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods, and less likely to snack without noticing. Mindful eating can have a positive effect on the choices we make that support health and well-being. However, overhauling the way we eat overnight is not realistic. So try incorporating some intuitive eating and mindful eating practices in your life by choosing one or two of the tips below to get you started. These principles can be especially useful as we head into a busy holiday season.
- Tune in to your feelings of hunger and fullness by taking time to think about and rate your physical hunger and satisfaction on a scale from 0-10 (0 being the hungriest and 10 being the least hungry). What does a zero feel like when you are extremely hungry? Maybe you have a headache, feel irritated or are shaky. What about 6 or 7? This is the point on the scale that usually correlates with a feeling of well-being. How do you feel at a 9 or 10, when you are as full as you can imagine? Here you may feel uncomfortable, fatigued, bloated or even nauseous. Use this scale as a way to check in with yourself before or during meals.
- When you feel physical hunger — eat! Try not to skip meals to “save” calories for later. This practice often causes people to overeat.
- Put your fork down in between bites and wait 10 minutes before getting seconds. Take a moment to check in with yourself and ask: Am I still hungry? Am I still enjoying this food, or am I finishing it just because it’s on my plate?
- Practice eating a food mindfully. Take a raisin, grape or even a small piece of chocolate. Use all five of your senses to describe the food before you put it in your mouth and while you are chewing it. What do you notice about the flavor, texture and aroma of the food? Are these aspects you notice when you typically eat this food?
- Enjoy the foods you love, without judgment. Eat them slowly and mindfully to appreciate the experience, and consider sharing the experience with a friend or loved one.