Mindful Eating. It’s a huge topic right now, but if you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what exactly it is and why it’s so important.
What is mindfulness?
Essentially, mindfulness is a purposeful way of paying attention to the present moment, while letting go of judgement, and acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and body sensations. It has been linked with remarkable improvements in psychological well-being and functioning.
According to research, it appears that mindfulness does, in fact, live up to the hype.
Studies have confirmed that mindfulness meditation can cause physical changes in your body that help to decrease cell damage, boost your immune system and increase your longevity.
Among its many benefits, mindfulness helps to keep you present in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It also improves concentration and decreases stress levels, which tend to run high in today’s fast-paced world.
By all accounts, mindfulness can really help you understand, tolerate and deal with your emotions in more healthy ways rather than letting them overpower you or dictate your behaviour.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness is a great tool to help you strengthen your resilience and enhance your capacity to experience the joys of everyday life. When applied to eating habits, it can transform the way you think about food, help you distinguish between physical and emotional-based hunger, and greatly improve your food choices.
Slowing down to be present in the moment can help break the cycle of eating on autopilot, eating when you aren’t really hungry and actually help you fully taste and enjoy your food!
Mindful eating is less about what you eat and more about HOW you eat.
Slowing down to savour and fully experience your meals is important.
As you get closer to peri-menopause, your body re-distributes fat to your belly and you become much more sensitive to weight gain.
Somehow eating dessert or having pizza on a Friday night has much more impact on your waistline than it used to and your tried and true methods of staying fit and healthy don’t work the same anymore.
This can be so frustrating and discouraging.
Mindful eating can really help you to focus on the present moment and can really shape both what and how you eat.
In fact, by changing the way you think about food, you can give yourself the opportunity to reframe negative feelings that are associated with eating, address unwanted eating behaviours and increase your chances of long term weight loss success.
If you do choose the dessert, this way at least you can savour and enjoy every bite, and maybe eat slow enough that you only want a small taste, rather than the whole plate.
If you are experiencing hot flashes and/or night sweats, there’s good news there too!
Research shows that mindfulness can significantly decrease the impact of these symptoms and also improve quality of life, sleep quality, anxiety and stress.
All good reasons to give it a try!
Here are my 5 steps to making mindful eating part of your life…
Take time to connect with yourself and be present in the moment. Make sure that you are respecting your body by choosing foods that make you feel good.
According to Harvard Health, the ideal mindful-eating food choices are foods in the anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean diet category — think: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and healthy fats.
This being said, whatever your food choice is in this moment — whether it’s avocado toast or a cheeseburger — you should truly savour and enjoy it!
Take time to write out your shopping list and think about your reasons for putting each item on the list. Try to stick to your list and avoid the temptation of impulse buys.
2. TUNE-IN TO HUNGER
Check in with yourself and your hunger signals.
Are you truly hungry?
You want to eat when you’re hungry, but avoid getting to the point where you feel ravenous.
The trap of skipping meals or going too long (more than 5-6 hours) between meals is that you will be focused on filing the void rather than enjoying your food.
Often this is when we make less healthy choices and blow right past satiety to the point of feeling overstuffed and uncomfortable.
On the other hand, you also don’t want to eat for the sake of eating and not out of hunger.
This is where the ”5-minute water trick” comes in handy;
If you aren’t sure if your hunger cues are authentic – drink 1 or 2 glasses of water and wait 5 minutes. If you are truly hungry, then you will still feel the urge to eat.
Many of us mistake thirst for hunger and this is when we are at risk of filling up on unnecessary calories.
3. FOCUS ON YOUR MEAL
Pause for a moment to anticipate your meal. Enjoy how it looks and smells. Appreciate it. Appreciate the people who are sharing the meal with you.
Try to enjoy your meal without distraction. This is a big one in our world full of constant and immediate access to entertainment, social media, etc!
Eat slowly and carefully, trying to invoke all of your senses.
Be aware of how the food makes you feel.
4. TUNE-IN TO SATIETY
Your goal is to eat slowly, take small bites and chew thoroughly (20-40 times for each bite). Spend at least 20 minutes eating your meal, if possible. This will help you fully experience each mouthful and stop eating when you feel satisfied, but before you feel completely full.
There is a 20-minute lag time before your brain is aware that you are full, so if you eat too quickly you can get way past the point of satiety and into that ‘uncomfortable’ zone (think: Joey and his ‘turkey-eating’ pants from Friends) — we’ve all been there!
5. STAY HYDRATED
Even if you are only 1% dehydrated it can negatively affect your mood, attention span, memory and coordination.
Research suggests that the thirst mechanism doesn’t kick in until you are already 1-2% dehydrated and, even then, the urge to hydrate can be weak. Since there is an overlap between the symptoms of thirst and hunger, it’s not surprising that many of us confuse the two.
Unfortunately though, when we eat instead of drinking water, we consume extra calories unnecessarily and, most often, this is in the form of convenient snacks that are high in calories, salt and/or sugar — so they only serve to further dehydrate us.
Drinking water, herbal or green tea regularly through the day will help you stay hydrated, keep your hunger cues in check and — BONUS — has been shown to boost your metabolism too!
For a quick reference guide to these mindful eating tips, click HERE.
I hope this helps shed some light on mindful eating and how to make it a part of your daily life. The new Canada’s Food Guide came out recently, and among many big changes is the addition of recommendations for mindful eating behaviours, like cooking at home more often, taking time to eat, being aware of when your are hungry or full, sharing meals with others and drinking water.
What you eat is one piece of the puzzle, but we are learning that how you eat makes a big difference too.
To your health,
- Sharf RH. Is mindfulness Buddhist? (and why it matters). Transcult Psychiatry. 2015; 52(4): 470-484. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25361692.
- Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011; 31(6): 1041-1056. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679190/.
- Bishop SR, Lau M, Shapiro S et al. Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clin Psychol Sci Prac. 2004; 11: 230-241. https://www.jimhopper.com/pdfs/bishop2004.pdf.
- Black DS, Slavich GM. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016; 1373(1): 13-24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940234/.
- Daubenmier J, Kristeller J, Hecht FM et al. Mindfulness intervention for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: an exploratory randomized controlled study. J Obes. 2011; 2011: 651936. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21977314/.
- O’Reilly GA, Cook L, Spruijt-Metz D, Black DS. Mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: a literature review. Obes Rev. 2014; 15(6): 453-461. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636206.
- Vincennati V, Pasqui F, Cavazza C, Pagotto U, Pasquali R. Stress-related development of obesity and cortisol in women. Obesity. 2009; 17(9): 1678-1683. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19300426.
- Carmody J, Crawford S, Salmoirago-Blotcher E et al. Mindfulness training for coping with hot flashes: results of a randomized trial. Menopause. 2011; 18(6): 611-620. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3123409/.
- 8 steps to mindful eating. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School Web site. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-steps-to-mindful-eating. Published January 2016. Accessed January, 22 2019.
- Healthy eating habits. Canada’s Food Guide. Government of Canada Web site. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-habits/. Updated March 12, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019.
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