Mindful Eating Practices
Meditation researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as a way of paying attention, on purpose, with patience, to your inner and outer experiences, without judgment. By slowing down and applying mindfulness practices, we can regain enjoyment in the foods we eat and experience an improved level of health.
If our eating habits mirror our busy and rushed lifestyle, we may be experiencing mindless eating or eating for emotional or social reasons. Slowing down to eat is important because it can take about 20 minutes before the brain realizes that the stomach is full. If we eat too fast, every meal becomes an opportunity for overeating. A feeling of heaviness after a meal can be a sign that we ate too much. Eating slowly may be easier said than done. Here are some suggestions on how to slow down during mealtime:
- Focus on your breath – Are you breathing properly throughout the meal? Eating in large bites and not chewing the food properly?
- Chew your food before taking the next bite- food digestion starts in the mouth. Chewing our food breaks it down into smaller pieces. We can support the digestion process by chewing slowly and thoroughly, allowing the food time to mix with saliva to further break down the food before moving along the digestive tract.
- Savor your food – really thinking about the food flavor and enjoying it will automatically slow down your eating. It’s perfectly okay to eat your favorite food first. Not only does this allow you to enjoy your meal but also prevents overeating.
- Set a timer – we often think of using timers for getting things done but in this case, setting a timer for 20 minutes can give us an idea of just how fast we’re eating (most people will be done way before the timer goes off) and remind us to slow down. Try taking a five-minute break after eating for ten minutes. Return to the meal after the break.
In addition to slowing down our eating, paying attention to hunger cues is key to incorporating a mindful approach to our eating practices.
- Eat when you’re hungry – it may seem like an obvious suggestion, but we often eat because it's time to eat, we’re stressed, anxious, or for social and cultural reasons. Pay attention to your hunger cues. If you realize you’re eating for emotional reasons, take a few deep breaths. Acknowledge your feelings and think about an alternative activity. Planning for social situations is also helpful. Here are some sample phrases to use in social settings when you’re not hungry.
- I’m not hungry right now, but I’d love to pack some for later.
- I’m enjoying our time/conversation together, I’ll eat later.
- Stay hydrated – drinking water throughout the day can help us stay hydrated and avoid confusing thirst for hunger cues. Try to start out your day with a glass of water.