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Food For Thought

3 habits that support mindful eating

Woman reaching for slice of pizza

Mindful eating sounds like a good idea—better than good, even. But how does one actually get started doing it? The answer? By cultivating habits that make mindful eating easier. Here I'll go over three basic habits that support mindful eating, and you can easily start any one of them today—with little to no preparation needed.

What is mindful eating, anyway?

I've written a few times about #mindfuleating before on this blog (here and here, for example). It's one of my favorite topics to explore and explain. Lots of people are under the impression that mindful eating is for monks or heavy-duty meditators, or that it's a bunch of woo-woo magical thinking baloney. It's not.

The basis of mindful eating is non-judgmental awareness of one's food intake and the body's signals around eating. That means, in short, the what, when, and how about your food—and how your body talks to you about hunger, fullness and satisfaction. People who eat mindfully tune in to their bodies for clues about hunger levels, fullness levels, enjoyment and satisfaction. They also increase their attention to the look of the food, its tastes, aromas and textures as they are preparing and/or eating the food. Appreciating both the food itself as well as the effort it took to get that food on the table.

Mindful eating is the non-judgmental awareness of one's food intake and the body's signals around food

Foster mindful eating with simple habits

One doesn't ever "finish" mindful eating because it's a practice, not an outcome. However, there certainly are ways to begin. Beginning mindful eating habits is really about creating habits that make mindful eating easier to do. Here are three ways you can start these kinds of habits right away—at your next meal if you want!

1. Sit down at a table or counter to eat your meals

Have you ever eaten while standing over the kitchen sink, driving or walking around, or sitting on the couch? What happens? Yep, you get distracted. In fact, these scenarios invite distraction—maybe I'll tidy up the kitchen at the same time, let's just see what's on TV, I should really go through this pile of mail or emails. How many times when watching TV have you looked down and noticed that you finished an entire bowl of popcorn or bag of chips? You get the point. It's difficult to be mindful about anything when you're doing multiple things at one time (click here for more on distracted eating).

However, when we sit down at a table or counter to eat, we are more able to focus on the act of eating. What's more, we provide our minds with a cue that we'll be focusing on eating for a little while. The more that we practice sitting down at a table or counter for eating, the more likely it is that our minds will get used to it. And you know, the more times we practice an action or behavior, the more deeply that the neural pathway for that action will be cemented in the brain.

And just so you know, your eating space and chair don't have to be "official" dining furniture, or even located in a dedicated dining room (although sitting at a work desk to eat isn't recommended even though it technically might be a table and chair situation). It's the act of sitting down at a table or counter that will help your brain get set for mindful eating as opposed to mindless eating.

Sitting down at a table or counter helps your brain get ready for mindful eating

2. Do a 10-second tune in before or after eating (or both)

It seems obvious, but in order to cultivate non-judgmental awareness, one has to strive to be aware. Modern eating styles don't stress tuning in to one's body as part of the dining experience, but to eat mindfully, it's crucial. Take 10 seconds after you sit down for a meal to just tune in. I suggest closing your eyes, but it's not required. Calm yourself with a deep breath and focus on your body sensations. Try to notice the ways that you body is telling you how hungry it is (or not hungry it is). We all feel hunger and fullness in somewhat the same ways—a hollow feeling or a stretched-out feeling in our stomach for example. But there are also whispers from our bodies that are unique to us. Do you have a slight headache when hungry? Does your mouth water? Are there other ways your body gives you clues about hunger and fullness?

When we don't tune in, we usually end up eating according to external cues (the size of the plate or bowl, the portion served to us, eating according to the clock, etc) instead of our internal cues. We miss the whispers and override the signals. Unfortunately, many of us learn to disregard our body's cues from a young age, which lead to overeating, a feeling of not being satisfied despite having eaten, and other issues related to mindless eating.

You can also do a 10-second tune in halfway through your meal, or after eating just to see how you body feels in response to the food you ate. Is your stomach overly full? Do you feel perfectly satisfied? Are you still feeling a little hungry? What sensations are you feeling that tell you how full you are? Tuning is one of the most valuable habits for mindful eating. In fact, you really can't eat mindfully without tuning in to your body's signals.

You really can't eat mindfully without tuning in to your body's signals

3. Take at least 20 minutes to eat your meal

You've probably heard before that it takes about 20 minutes for our minds to catch up with what is happening in our gastrointestinal systems. Our bodies are good at sending out hormonal signals to our brains, but if we eat quickly, we can easily ingest more food than our bodies need (or want) before our minds have even received the alert! Registering fullness and hunger is both a body and mind job; they work together to get us to pursue food when hungry and reject eating more food when we've had enough.

Now, while I don't think setting a timer is required in order to start eating slowly, it can be a helpful tool to set you on the path. If you'd like to try it, start by seeing how long a typical meal takes for you. If you don't take 20 minutes for a meal, at least you know where you're starting from. Start stretching out that meal length by working on taking 10 minutes to eat half your meal. Set an alarm for 10 minutes on your kitchen stove or on your phone (then put the phone away in the next room—phones are a distraction from eating for most people). Eat slowly, chat with your eating companion if you have one, focus on the taste, texture, temperature, aromas and beauty of your food as you slowly eat. Practice this at one meal a day if possible. Once you get pretty good at that, start setting the alarm for 20 minutes and aim to be just finishing when the alarm goes off.

Which of these habits do you think you could start right away? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear!

Are you a woman who is wants to change you life by changing your eating habits? Join me in the free Eating Habits Lab Facebook group for tips, trainings, resources and community. I hope to see you there.


Looking to "dig in" to finally changing your eating habits?

Join our community of like-minded folks who are learning the ins and outs of habit change with me and our supportive FB group, the Eating Habits Lab. 

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