5 Principles of Mindful Eating

NAINA SOLANKI
5 Principles of Mindful Eating

We are what we eat--at least that's how the saying goes. In today's busy world, however, with so many distractions and temptations, it can be hard to remember that's true while eating too. Mindful eating is a practice where you focus more on the food you're eating and how your body feels when you're eating it. By becoming more aware of hunger, fullness, cravings, and satisfaction levels, you can learn to make better choices about what to eat in the moment and be satisfied without overeating. Let's look at five principles of mindful eating and how you can incorporate them into your lifestyle.

Learn to Identify True Hunger 

Do you ever find yourself mindless nibbling without tasting the food? Many people eat when they aren't hungry. Mindfulness teaches you to eat only when you're hungry and to evaluate your hunger before biting into a snack. Learn to rate your hunger on a scale of one to five before snacking. If it's not at least a four or five, it's not true hunger.

Stay in touch with your hunger signals while you eat too. Check in with your body midway through a meal or snack. Reassess your hunger and ask yourself whether you're still enjoying each bite. Non-mindful eaters continue to eat even after they feel satisfied, often on autopilot. Then there's the idea that you must clean your plate. It's not necessary! You can always save a portion of your meal for later.

How do you know when you've eaten enough? You shouldn't feel stuffed or uncomfortable, but satisfied. Mindful eating allows you to stop eating before this point, so that you don't overindulge.

You'll know when it's time to stop when your body tells you it's had enough food. Pay attention to what this feels like - fullness in your stomach, low hunger pangs. The next time, you'll have a better idea of how much is enough for your body.

Be Aware 

Mindful eating is the practice of eating with attention and intention, being fully present and aware of your food, your body, your surroundings, and how you feel when you eat it. Mindful eating means slowing down to enjoy the experience of eating. Rather than rushing through a meal or snack, focus on being present. Tune into the taste, texture, aroma, and appearance of your food. It will take some practice (and probably some mistakes) at first, but over time it will become easier and soon become second nature.

The next time you sit down for a meal, focus on your food, the way it looks and tastes, and how it makes you feel physically. Instead of eating on autopilot, engage all your senses in the act of nourishment. One way to tune into the sensory aspects of what you're eating is to take a bite and close your eyes as you slowly chew. You'll notice things about that food you wouldn't have noticed if you savor it with your eyes open.

Stop Labelling Foods as Good or Bad 

When you label foods "good" or "bad," you're sending your body the wrong message. You can blame the diet industry for this. First, high-fat foods are bad, then the pendulum shifts, and sugar is on the chopping block. No food should be demonized or deemed unacceptable. One of the most destructive pieces of advice a dietitian can give is to tell someone they can't eat a food group or specific food.

How you think about food has a powerful effect on how you eat it. If you tell yourself that a certain food is "bad," it will be more desirable, and you will probably eat more of it. Instead, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods and learn to appreciate their attributes, their taste, texture, and aroma. Once you engage more with unprocessed fare, processed foods will lose some of their appeal. Don't give up foods but replace them with healthier alternatives.

Create a Healthy Food Environment 

Create a healthier eating environment that makes it easy to eat mindfully. Typical mindless eating goes something like this: You walk into the kitchen and open the fridge or pantry looking for food. You see some leftover pizza, a plate of cookies, leftover Chinese food, and a carton of ice cream. Your mouth starts watering as your stomach rumbles. You grab a plate with pizza on it and a container of cookies and dig in.

How can you avoid this fate? Fill your refrigerator and cabinets with real food and make it easy to access. When you open the fridge, you should see a wealth of colorful whole foods, not junk. Be mindful when grocery shopping too. Steer your cart to the perimeters of the store where the healthier items are. Notice the colors and textures of items in the produce section. Read the descriptions and learn more about the fruits and vegetables your store offers. Then look for healthy recipe ideas that use those foods.

Reject the Idea of Dieting 

Dieting is harmful to your body physically and mentally. It can lead to a dangerous obsession with calories and restrictive food practices. If you're trying to lose weight, shut the book on diets and dieting. Stop reading about the latest diet and weight loss supplements, and focus on health and eating mindfully. Mindfulness eating will help you naturally make smarter food choices and be more satisfied with each meal. You don't need the added stress of calorie restriction to lose weight. Mindful eating will help you get there with less stress.

Here are some additional tips for being more mindful during meals: 

1. Eat slowly

2. Put your fork down between bites 

3. Chew each bite thoroughly to better appreciate taste and texture

4. Take breaths in between bites 

5. Wait until you're hungry before you start eating 

6. Don't eat if you're not hungry 

7. Eat more slowly on days when you're feeling down or stressed

8. Try not to eat in front of a screen 

9.  Create a pleasant, focused atmosphere when you eat - clean table, soft lightening, lack of clutter

10. Eat with the intention of nourishing your body -- not punishing yourself or feeling guilty for what you ate earlier in the day

The Bottom Line 

So often we are distracted during a meal and miss out on truly enjoying the experience. Or we may try to eat quickly, so we can do other things. Mindful eating will help you slow down and enjoy your meals again. Beyond nutrition, isn't that what eating is about?

References: 

Nelson JB. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017 Aug;30(3):171-174. doi: 10.2337/ds17-0015. PMID: 28848310; PMCID: PMC5556586.

"Mindful Eating | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan ...." hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-eating/.

"Mindful Eating - Harvard Health Publications - Harvard Health." 01 Feb. 2011, health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating.

"Mindful Eating Helps People Eat Less, Lose Weight, Study Finds." 22 May. 2017, studyfinds.org/mindful-eating-study/.