Mindfulness is a trendy buzzword these days, making regular appearances on Instagram posts, Facebook, and popular apps like Calm and Headspace. Historically, mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that encourages awareness to what is happening within and around you. With many of us distracted by busy schedules and a growing dependence on smart devices, it makes sense to be more deliberate about practicing mindfulness throughout the day. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I encourage my patients to bring more attention in the form of mindfulness to their food and eating habits. This practice is called mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating promotes reconnecting to what our bodies are telling us when we make our food choices. It also encourages awareness with what might be influencing our food choices externally. Mindful eating recognizes that we are all born with an internal wisdom that enables us to identify nourishing food as well as recognize physical sensations of hunger and fullness. As a result of our modern world, many of us are disconnected from this inherent ability, which can lead to poor food choices, undereating and overeating.
Mindfulness also acknowledges that there are many reasons why we eat, unrelated to hunger. We often gravitate towards mindless snacking to soothe stress, boredom, loneliness, or sadness. I encourage my patients to take the time to identify the intention behind the eating behavior or food choice, but to do so with curiosity instead of judgement. Acknowledgement of this intention is an important step to regaining connection to internal wisdom.
Strategies for Mindful Eating
Just like other mindfulness strategies, mindful eating is a practice that can take time to develop. Below are some simple strategies to begin your own mindful eating practice:
- Create a space with limited distraction. Feel free to enjoy your meal with family or friends but avoid eating in front of the TV or using a smart device. As you become more skilled with your practice, it is possible to eat mindfully while watching TV or using a smartphone.
- Once you sit down to a meal or reach for a snack, take a moment to identify your intention behind eating. Notice your current emotional state: are you bored, stressed, lonely, sad, or feeling neutral? Are you noticing physiological sensations of hunger like stomach rumbling or increased thoughts related to food?
- You can also try identifying your hunger level on a scale of 1 to 10. If you are at a 1, you are ravenous. If you are at a 10, you are overly stuffed. While you are eating, make effort to eat slower than usual. Notice food aroma, texture, and flavors. Once you are finished eating, evaluate your hunger a second time. The goal is to enter a meal at a 3 and leave the meal at a 7.
- Remember to practice self-compassion throughout this process. Take note of the internal and external cues you discover while eating mindfully and explore your intentions from a place of curiosity.
Applying the strategies above at one meal a few times per week can facilitate increased awareness related to eating and intention being food choices. If you would like continued support developing a mindful eating practice, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian or explore the resources below.