Food for thought: how to eat more mindfully

Note: This is the first of two “Mindful Monday” posts.

Ever wonder why eating healthy has to be so complicated? One topic that gets a lot of attention is mindful eating, which is sometimes described as an antidote to dieting. But what is mindful eating? Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating an open-minded awareness of how the food you choose to eat affects your body, feelings, and emotions. It’s being aware of physical hunger and body cues telling you when enough is enough! It’s making eating a positive experience by acknowledging your responses to food, free of judgment. Now doesn’t that sound great? Well let’s discuss a few ways to put this concept into action.

  • Know your emotions and WHY you are eating: Are you hungry or are you just feeling stressed, lonely, depressed, wanting that sugar rush to wake you up? Acknowledging the reasons we eat helps detract from overeating for these reasons. It allows us to start figuring out other ways to cope with emotions that isn’t always eating either on an individual level or with the help of a professional.
  • Use a hunger scale: Using a scale from 1-10—with 1 being starving to 10 being the result of Thanksgiving dinner—name how hungry you are before eating. Aim to start eating when you are a 4 and finish eating at an 8 to avoid overeating. If you are still hungry after a big meal, think about what food groups you might have missed. Protein and fiber-rich foods both help with satiety.
  • Sit down in a quiet space without technology (TV, computers, phones) or even reading material. This can distract you from your body’s cues to stop eating.
  • Pick a smaller plate/bowl/cup for your food. This naturally decreases your intake by tricking your mind into thinking you’re eating more than you are.
  • Chew slowly and put down your utensils after each bite. This will help your body digest the food better. It takes a full 20 minutes for your body to signal your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Since eating slower can feel tedious at first, try using chopsticks or your non-dominate hand to practice eating more slowly.
  • Resign from the “clean plate” club. Be OK with leftovers on your plate. You can save them for lunch the next day or for that afternoon snack when everyone else is reaching for sweets. By using this control, you are counting on your hunger cues rather than your eyes to decide when you’ve had enough. Children under 5 are great at this – let’s learn from them and encourage them to continue this by letting them stop when they are full.

Christy Goff, MS, RDN, is GSDA’s public relations co-chair and president-elect. She’s an employee wellness dietitian and community liaison for a team called the Living Well Alliance at Pacific Medical Centers.