The Five Essentials of Mindful Eating

Posted by on Sep 15, 2009 in Healthy Nutrition | Comments Off on The Five Essentials of Mindful Eating

The Five Essentials of Mindful Eating

Mindfulness is the act of paying full, non-judgmental attention to our moment-to-moment experience.  We can use mindfulness to free ourselves from unhealthy eating habits and improve our overall quality of life.

Mindful Eating is a practice that engages all parts of us_our body, our heart, and our mind-in choosing, preparing, and eating food.  It allows us to pay attention to colors, textures, scents, tastes, and even sounds of drinking and eating.

An example of mindful eating may look like this….

Ben came home from a busy day of work, he was feeling depleted and tired.  He went into the kitchen and grabbed some chips and cookies from the cupboard and started eating them while trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner.  He ends up eating too much of the chips and cookies and therefore he isn’t very hungry for dinner.  He scolds himself that he has eaten too much and didn’t really enjoy what he was eating.  He decides he ate too much and will not be having dinner.

The next time, Ben gets home and is hungry and is feeling tired and depleted.  He checks in with himself around how he is feeling before automatically going to the kitchen for food.  He realizes that he needs some down time and finds a quiet spot to be quiet before deciding what to make for dinner.  Ten minutes later Ben feels refreshed and is able to attend to his feelings of tiredness and even sadness.  He meets both physical and mental feelings with attention and compassion.  Now he can choose something to eat with a clear mind and pay attention to what would best nourish him.  He can eat his meal slowly and really taste what he is eating and enjoy his evening.

Steps to Mindful Eating

1)  Slow it Down

 In our busy culture we often grab and go. Research shows that we spend only eleven minutes eating lunch at a fast-food restaurant and thirteen minutes at a cafeteria in their workplace.

  • Pause and smell your food before you eat.  See the colors, roll the food around in your mouth and notice flavor, texture, satisfaction, what are you tasting?   ain.
  • Put your utensil down between bites.   After you have tasted and swallowed your food, you can then pick up your food again.

2)  Right Amount

This statement of right amount stems from the buddhist teaching of the eightfold path to enlightenment.   In the Buddhist teachings “right” means appropriate, beneficial, leading to happiness and freedom.  What is the “right amount” ?

Gauge Hunger and Fullness before a Meal.  

  • Before moving into a meal, take a mindful moment, breathe, and ask yourself how hungry are you on a scale of 1-10.  If you are only a 5, then maybe you only need a snack and not a full meal.
  • While you are eating, gauge your fullness.  How full are you getting?  See if you can eat to a comfortable level of fullness.
  • What is a comfortable level of fullness?  If you can walk for 10 minutes then you are probably comfortably full, if you can’t then maybe you have eaten too much.  Let any judgment go, but just use this information for next time.

3)  Energy Balance

 There is an energy balance between what we take into our body for energy (food) and what energy we put out through exercise or activity.  Several studies highlight the importance of staying at a healthy weight and to prevent chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.  Therefore, we can think of the energy balance in terms of weight management.

When we bring too much energy into the body, we gain weight.

When we bring in the same amount of energy into the body as we utilize in our activity we maintain our weight. 

Lastly, when we bring in less energy and put out more activity through activity we lose weight. 

In order to lose weight, we have to decrease the amount of energy we bring into our bodies through food or increase the energy flowing out.  Instill a combination of eating less and being more active allows us to eat a moderate amount of foods we like while staying healthy with our activity.

4)  Eating Alternatives

We all have different cravings for foods.  We might have a sweet tooth or crave more salty high fat foods such as chips.  Whatever our craving is can get in the way of choosing foods that might be more supportive and nourishing to our bodies.

The Healthy Food Pyramid supports the following nutrition guidelines:
whole grains at most meals
foods that are lower on the glycemic index (lower sugars)
lots of fruits and veggies
low saturated and trans fats
incorporate lean meats, such as fish, beans, soy, and nuts for protein sources
If you stick with these tips in mind, you can consciously choose healthier substitutes for your sugar and salt cravings.

For example, if you consciously choose a slice of whole grain bread with almond butter, and agave nectar drizzled on it instead of a bowl of ice cream, you are making use of mindful eating.

5)  Mindful Choice

Another helpful tip in our mindful eating is to recognize a craving for something and consciously decide if it’s something that you really, really want. Sometimes it is helpful to put foods on a scale of taste satisfaction from 0-10.  If foods rate over a 7, then it’s probably a food that you really, really want, but if it’s less than a 7, then you can pass and not feel like you are denying yourself something you really want.

For example, if you walk into an office and food (lets say cookies) are just lying around, but it’s not a cookie you really like then you can easily pass it up and say to yourself, “No Thanks.”

Summary of Mindful Eating

Slow down
Take a pause and conscious choice before eating
Take breaks while eating to really enjoy and assess your hunger and fullness
Mindfully choose healthier alternatives
Choose what you really, really want and enjoy it.