The concept of “listening to your body” is commonly mentioned and seems intuitive. In reality, though, it can introduce a lot of confusion if taken literally. Really, when our body says “Gimme more sugar!” – should we listen to it and obey? When we strive to eat till satiety, don’t we set ourselves up for a failure since we usually feel full noticeably later than we actually get out fill? Finally, when our body reaches for another handful of peanuts or pretzels in a bout of mindless munching in front of TV, should we listen to it?
This is where the concept of mindful eating comes in. It’s intended to re-establish our connection with our body, so we could learn to really listen to it – not to impulses that are often learned, but to intrinsic signals, to actual needs. Mindful eating involves:
- Eating slowly and without distraction.
- Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full.
- Distinguishing between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating.
- Engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures and tastes.
- Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
- Eating to maintain overall health and well-being.
- Noticing the effects food has on your feelings and figure.
- Appreciating your food.
Changes in behavior related to eating can result in weight loss, decrease stress and depression, cut down on binge eating, and improve health marker. See for example this study where average weight loss reached 9 pounds in obese patients at 12 week follow-up period; participants in this one achieved 26 pounds loss over 6 months period and kept it 3 months later.
There are some good basics in this Huffington Post article. To quote a few noteworthy lines from it:
Eating slowly doesn’t have to mean taking it to extremes. Still, it’s a good idea to remind yourself, and your family, that eating is not a race. Taking the time to savor and enjoy your food is one of the healthiest things you can do.
Savor the silence
Yes, eating in complete silence may be impossible for a family with children, but you might still encourage some quiet time and reflection. Again, try introducing the idea as a game — “let’s see if we can eat for two minutes without talking”.
Silence the phone. Shut off the TV.
Our daily lives are full of distractions, and it’s not uncommon for families to eat with the TV blaring or one family member or other fiddling with their iPhone. Consider making family mealtime, which should, of course, be eaten together, an electronics-free zone.
Pay attention to flavor
The tanginess of a lemon, the spicyness of arugula, the crunch of a pizza crust — paying attention to the details of our food can be a great way to start eating mindfully. After all, when you eat on the go or wolf down your meals in five minutes, it can be hard to notice what you are even eating, let alone truly savor all the different sensations of eating it. If you are trying to introduce mindful eating to your family, consider talking more about the flavors and textures of food. Ask your kids what the avocado tastes like, or how the hummus feels. And be sure to share your own observations and opinions too. (Yes, this goes against the eating in silence piece, but you don’t have to do everything at once.)
Know your food
Mindfulness is really about rekindling a relationship with our food. From planting a veggie garden through baking bread to visiting a farmers market, many of the things we locavores have been preaching about for years are not just ways to cut our carbon foodprint, but also connect with the story behind our food.
A few good practical recommendations are in this Harward article:
- Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
- Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.
- Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
- Take small bites and chew well.
- Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.
There are a lot of great resources on mindful eating. Go over the articles linked in this post and do some more internet browsing to form your own set of mindful eating ideas.Enjoying your food is much better than taking in your calories and nutrients!