In my last post, I mentioned the concept of Mindful Eating but didn’t go very in-depth. Today I want to elaborate on this idea because I think whatever your nutritional goal is, whether it is getting emotional eating under control, or just eating a healthier diet, Mindful Eating is really important!
So what exactly is Mindful Eating? Let’s start with the idea of mindfulness, which essentially is paying attention to what is going on in the present moment and observing your feelings, thoughts, and how your body feels without judgement. Those of you who practice yoga are probably familiar with this concept. Mindful Eating is applying this concept to food and eating by paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and how your body feels throughout the eating experience.
I know what you’re thinking, it sounds pretty hippy-dippy.
I used to think it sounded that way too, I will admit. I was not always a yoga-loving dietitian who believes in mindfulness. I used to hate yoga and didn’t understand how all these people laid on their mats thinking about nothing, although I now know they were focusing on their bodies, not thinking about nothing! When I was there, all I could think about was how much more I’d rather be running or doing just about anything. So how did I get to this point?
First of all, if you’re anything like me you want to know what the evidence is behind it. There is evidence that mindfulness in general can help with stress reduction, pain reduction, and even improved blood sugar control for those with type 2 diabetes!
In terms of Mindful Eating, there is evidence it can help with binge eating and emotional eating, both of which are a major barrier for improving people’s health. This makes sense when you think about Mindful Eating involving being more aware of your body and your sensations when you are eating.
This all sounds great but how do you start incorporating this practice? First of all, realize that learning to eat mindfully takes time and practice and doesn’t happen overnight. Here are my tips to get you started!
1) Check in with yourself to see how you feel before you start eating.
Are you physically hungry? On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being that you’re so starving and 10 being so stuffed you feel like you need to unbutton your pants, where do you rate yourself? Check in with your stomach: is it rumbling? It can be helpful to include these hunger ratings in a food journal so you can learn from your eating behaviours. Also check in with your emotions. If you're not hungry, what is going on? Are you feeling sad, lonely, or bored?
2) Try to eat without distractions.
This is going to be one of those things that is easier said than done. Try not to eat with the TV on, while looking at your phone, or in your car. This is especially difficult when you’re eating a meal alone, I know. Even if you’re not sold on the idea of Mindful Eating, however; there have been numerous studies, some of which are summarized here that show that when we are distracted, we eat more! This likely has to do with the fact that when we are focusing on something else, we aren’t paying attention to when we are satisfied.
3) Focus on your food.
So this sounds obvious but so often when we eat, we don’t pay attention to our food much at all. Take some time to look and smell of your food before you go to take your first bite. If it’s a finger food, pay attention to how the food feels against your fingers. When you go to put that first bite into your mouth, really pay attention to the texture of the food in your mouth, temperature, and taste. Is it sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or savoury? Maybe it’s a combination of these tastes. Take time to enjoy the flavour and texture as you chew the food instead of just bringing another bite up to your mouth before you’ve fully enjoyed this bite. Take your time and savour your food. Personally, I find closing my eyes once the food is in my mouth helps me to focus on the flavours and textures but I generally only do this when I'm alone as opposed to out with friends!
4) Continue to check in as you eat and after you're done.
Do you still feel hungry or are you satisfied? Are you enjoying the food? This may sound silly but I have had clients who realize they don’t actually like some of the foods they thought they did before they took the time to focus on their food because they find it to salty, sweet, greasy, etc.
Also check in with how you feel after you've finished eating. Do you feel sluggish and tired or do you feel energized? You might notice after eating certain foods, your body feels better versus other foods and this is something to pay attention to because once you realize certain foods make you feel awful, you might not want to have them as often to feel your best. You'll also notice the foods that make you feel good, which you might want to incorporate more often!
5) Don’t judge yourself.
Maybe you ate past the point of where you were satisfied or ate when you weren’t hungry. Maybe you looked down and realized you did end up eating without paying attention and now the food is gone. Don’t beat yourself up! This can lead to the cycle of feeling bad about what you ate, restricting too much, then feeling deprived and overeating again, which is exactly what we’re trying to stop! Instead, try to understand why that happened. Writing this down can be really beneficial as this way you can find the patterns of when you eat too much or mindlessly eat so you can work on them. Try to frame the way you speak to yourself as you would your best friend. You would never call your best friend a failure, a pig, fat, or anything like that if they told you they ate too much so why do it to yourself? Observe what happened to learn from it, not to make yourself feel bad.
I keep mentioning the idea of journalling throughout this post and I know some people really hate food journalling. I think this is really unfortunate because there is so much you can learn from it! I’m not saying you need to measure every gram of food you ate but if you are someone who struggles with mindless eating or emotional eating, you might be best to start by focusing on how hungry you are before you start eating, what you were feeling, where you were, and how you felt afterwards along with what you were eating to learn what your habits are. You can’t change what you don’t know you’re doing! You can do this on paper or use apps.
I have put an example you could use if you want to do a paper version to help give you an idea of what you might want to include. If you are struggling with emotional eating or binges, there is an app called Recovery Record, which allows you to take a picture of your food, include your thoughts and feelings, along with environment when you’re eating, and even how hungry you were before your meal and how full you are now! If you’re working with a Dietitian or other healthcare practitioner, you can allow them to look at your logs to help support you along the way. It was designed for eating disorders but it can be very helpful for anyone struggling with eating issues.
If you’re struggling with emotional eating or binges and want additional help from a Registered Dietitian, you can book an appointment with me here or talk to your doctor about a referral to a qualified health professional.
Remember that Mindful Eating is a journey! If you want more information, check out the Center for Mindful Eating or there are some fabulous books such as Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers that can also help.
Happy Mindful Eating!