We eat healthier when we eat mindfully, but what does mindful eating really mean and why should you care?
Mindful eating in it’s broadest definition includes awareness and attention to how the food we choose feels, how it tastes, and how it affects our body and the world around us. When we eat mindfully, we are intentional about noticing how hungry we are and what type of food will satisfy our taste buds, our hunger, and our nutritional needs.
Mindful eating is also a habit that can get lost in the daily hustle and bustle of life. It can feel easier to eat mindlessly when our plates are full (pun intended) with other tasks and priorities. If you answer “no” to any of the following questions, it might be time to reevaluate your mindful eating skills.
Do you sit down to at least one meal per day with the isolated task of eating, without distraction (including social media, work, or TV)?
Do you eat at least 3 meals and 2 snacks per day at regular intervals, avoiding ravenous hunger?
Do you regularly notice the flavor of your meals and snacks?
Do you regularly notice the texture of your meals and snacks?
Do you check in with your body’s hunger and cravings when unexpectedly presented with food?
If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, you would likely benefit from getting more zen with your food.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Food tastes better
Have you ever seen an empty plate or food wrapper and realized you don’t remember eating the food? When we eat mindlessly, we miss out on the psychological experience of eating as well as the flavor experience, often leading us to want more food because although we might be full, we don’t remember the experience of eating and still have that desire. Eating with little or no distraction and intentionally noticing how the food feels and tastes in your mouth will allow you to more fully experience the food and lead to a more satisfying eating experience.
Food tastes better AND worse when we pay attention. Mindfulness allows us to further differentiate between food we like and food we don’t (if you pay attention, are the donuts at work Friday mornings tasty or just mediocre?). Noticing sweetness, bitterness, sourness, juiciness, temperature, crunchiness, or saltiness and silently naming the adjective will bring you more connection with food. And when this happens you’ll likely begin feeling more “picky”, but it’s a good change because when we really taste food in this way, we are more intentional about food selection.
2. Self care
Mindful eating also means paying attention to hunger and fullness cues. The continuous monitoring of these body cues is a type of self care.
If you don’t feel hunger until you are ravenous and “hangry”, then there are hunger sensations getting missed along the way. Notice how you feel an hour after eating, then two and three hours after eating. How would you describe what you feel in your stomach? How would you describe what you feel mentally – do you have a headache or lightheadedness or difficulty concentrating? These are all signs of being hungry.
Staying on top of hunger and preventing low blood sugar is a key feature of mindful eating for three reasons. First, it requires attention, therefore it is a mindful act. Second, eating when calmly hungry versus ravenously hungry allows us to have a much better chance at noticing and appreciating the flavor of the food. When we wolf food down because we are starving, we naturally don’t care as much about how the food tastes. Last, we have a MUCH better chance at stopping when comfortably full if we aren’t starving to begin with, resulting in more appropriate amounts.