Being mindful in this busy world is easier said than done. Bringing full presence and awareness to both your physical self as well as your surroundings requires constant care and attention before it becomes a permanent habit.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing your consciousness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting any feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It can be used as a therapeutic technique for both mental and physical conditions—such as stress or pain—and is also a tool that can be applied to eating.
Mindfulness is a tool that anyone can use by implementing some basic awareness techniques that can make a big impact to your relationship with and enjoyment of eating. Mindful eating is one way of practicing mindfulness in your busy day-to-day life, during stressful times such as holidays or a work or school deadline, or even when life is more “normal.”
So many of us cruise through life munching when we’re not hungry, grabbing for foods that really don’t make our bodies feel good when we eat them, and not tasting the true flavor or texture of the foods we eat. Eating mindfully means being aware of where, when and what you’re eating. It isn’t a diet and it isn’t restriction. It has to do with listening to your body and fueling it well.
5 Tips for eating more mindfully in a busy world
- Take a pause: meditate, relax, or simply breathe before making a food-related decision. Try thinking “slow down.” Check in with yourself: are you hungry? Are any emotions or judgments coming up for you regarding the food or environment? Taking a pause is the first step to creating a more mindful environment when eating. Just a few seconds can make a big difference in your decision making.
- Prepare yourself: plan ahead for success. Bring your awareness to the foods you pick at the grocery store or at a restaurant. Meal planning, thinking ahead, and having a plan for your day can help bring mindfulness to your schedule rather than grabbing food on the go. Ask yourself: will this food nourish my body? Preview a menu to ensure they have options that you’ll enjoy and fit into the way you’re trying to eat. Pack snacks so that you have them when you need them to keep from getting hangry (hungry + angry). Being prepared can make you feel better throughout the day.
- Incorporate joyful movement: use physical activity as a tool to increase mindfulness, not as a punishment or chore. Instead of connecting with friends and family over drinks or dessert, get together for a game or a walk instead. Dislike the treadmill? Chose another activity that you look forward to instead! Physical activity releases feel-good endorphins and can be a healthy tool for breaking unhealthy eating habits. Even a quick walk around the block or jaunt up the stairs can be the break your body needs during the day.
- Incorporate mindful strategies and tools: if you struggle with mindless eating, use smaller plates, have the bread or chip bowl removed from the table, or pause between bites of food. Bring your awareness to the habits you have developed when eating. Be aware of portion sizes, the sights, sounds and smells of food—is your eating being triggered by your senses? Be aware of distracted eating and bring your attention to the habits that surround your mealtimes. Again, take a breath, bring your awareness to the eating experience and making eating fun.
- Reflect on how you feel: Ask yourself “am I hungry?” to rate your hunger before you eat and bring your awareness to that moment. Pay attention to what your hunger feels like and what level it has reached before you eat. Reflect on feelings of guilt or pleasure associated with eating as you increase mindfulness and a positive relationship with food.
Many people move through life without being aware of how they’re really feeling at any given time. This can lead to emotional eating patterns or a lack of consciousness about how food makes you feel physically. How will you employ mindfulness into your eating practices today? How can you shift your focus to nourishing your body rather than deprive it? Strive for progress rather than perfection.
- Marcason, W. Stay Mindful with 4 Tips for Holiday Eating. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/lifestyle/holidays/a-healthy-approach-to-holiday-eating. Published December 22, 2015.
- Harris C. Mindful Eating: Resources for Mindfulness and Meditation. http://www.foodandnutrition.org/Stone-Soup/April-2014/Mindful-Eating-Resources-for-Mindfulness-and-Meditation/. Published: 04/03/2014.
- Fung TT, Long MW, Hung P, Cheung LWY. An Expanded Model for Mindful Eating for Health Promotion and Sustainability: Issues and Challenges for Dietetics Practice. J Acad Nut Diet.
- Fletcher, M. The Center for Mindful Eating. Asking Questions Makes Mindful Eating Easier than You Think. http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/TCME-Blog/3994813. Published 4/26/16.
Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, is GSDA’s nominating committee co-chair. Among her many endeavors, she’s a health writer and creator of the blog Champagne Nutrition.