Mindfulness is one of those words that seems to be popping up everywhere these days. But what it actually means is a bit harder to grasp for many people.
The concept of mindfulness originates from Buddhism and essentially means to be aware. In our modern, fast-paced, social media-driven lives it seems awareness is something that has taken a backseat. This may be why so many wellness experts lately have been stressing the importance of getting it back. Enter: mindfulness.
A time when most of us consistently don’t practice mindfulness is when we’re eating. So many of us eat in a rush, in front of the TV, or scrolling on our phones in the breakroom. We rarely sit, uninterrupted, simply enjoying our food. And some experts say this could be a factor in why so many of us struggle with our relationship with food.
While it’s well understood that fad diets don’t work in the long run, studies on mindful eating suggest adopting this mindset might be helpful for long-term health.
One study found that those who participate in behavioral weight-loss methods typically lose an average of 18 pounds over a six-month period. But researchers found that in an acceptance-based (mindful) program, participants lost an average of 26 pounds. Furthermore, these people kept the weight off at a three-month follow up.
So what exactly does it mean to eat mindfully? Harvard Health and Healthline have some simple techniques you can try at your next meal, and in the future.
How to Eat Mindfully
This may seem straight-forward, but don’t stock your pantry with junk food. This means, when you’re shopping, be mindful of what you’re putting in your cart. Consider how nutritious each item is, rather than just grabbing your usual picks. It may be helpful to get most of the items on your list from the produce section and avoid inside aisles.
Eat When You’re Hungry
Pay attention to if you eat when you “should” eat versus when you’re hungry. Like, eating dinner because it’s “dinner time” even though you had a late lunch. But try to avoid waiting to eat until you’re ravenous, which can trigger binge eating. Conversely, pay attention to your body and stop eating when you’re full.
Turn Off Screens
Watching TV or scrolling on your phone while you eat is a way of mentally “tuning out.” Mindful eating is all about “tuning in.” Turning off the TV and keeping your phone out of reach will help you pay more attention to your food.
Appreciate Your Food
Either while you’re cooking or before you start eating, consider the effort it took to get your food to your plate. Appreciate the work you’ve done, or mentally acknowledge the work that someone else has done. If you’re eating with friends or family, appreciate the fact that you all took time to get together.
Activate Your Senses
The act of cooking and eating allows for all the senses to engage, so why not purposefully tune into each one? Consider all the colors on your plate. Take in the aromas and textures, how flavors blend and the sounds of food cooking. This can help you mentally slow down and appreciate your meal.
Studies have found that fast eaters tend to weigh more than slow or medium-paced eaters. Try taking smaller bites and chewing thoroughly – this can help you better taste your food. It might even help to put your silverware down between bites while you chew.
Take Smaller Portions
You may find that eating slower will cause you to fill up from less food than you’re used to. Try taking a smaller portion at first and wait to see if you need more.
Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, mindful eating can be a great way to help incorporate mindfulness into an aspect of your everyday life. If you’d like to learn how to practice mindfulness in other areas of your life, try out some simple meditations.
Maruyama, K., Sato, S., Ohira, T., Maeda, K., Noda, H., Kubota, Y., … Iso, H. (2008). The joint impact on being overweight of self reported behaviours of eating quickly and eating until full: cross sectional survey. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 337, a2002. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2002
Niemeier, H. M., Leahey, T., Palm Reed, K., Brown, R. A., & Wing, R. R. (2012). An acceptance-based behavioral intervention for weight loss: a pilot study. Behavior therapy, 43(2), 427–435. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2011.10.005