“Mindless autopilot” is the state that researcher Brian Wansink of Cornell University has used to describe the state most of us are in when we make more than 200 food and beverage-related decisions each day. Every bite we eat includes decisions about what we are eating, how much to eat, how to eat it and when. And we are making these choices mindlessly and distracted by working, texting, feeling, socializing, etc.
Mindless eating has been linked to overeating and weight issues, metabolic disorders, digestive distress and disordered eating as well as exacerbating many health conditions. Whether eating chips and guac in front of the TV, munching candy from a co-worker’s desk, eating when we are bored or just eating more because our new bowls are bigger than the old ones… these are all examples of mindless eating. And it’s easy to see how these unconsidered decisions can wreak havoc on our ability to eat healthfully... and nourish both our bodies and minds.
Mindful eating, or paying closer attention to what and how we are eating, has been shown to have profound effects on our ability to stave off cravings, regulate portions, recognize fullness and satisfaction more quickly and reduce destructive eating habits. Mindful eating can also help us be more compassionate about our food decisions so that a slice of cake doesn’t become a reason to beat ourselves up or become obsessive and ultimately, unhealthy in their rigidity. Simply said, when we eat mindfully we are more likely to eat a little less, eat a little more healthfully and enjoy it a lot more.
Here are five tips for eating more mindfully. They might not all be right for you… but try a few and see how you feel.
1.Sit at the table.
Sit down at a table and not in front of the sink, TV or laptop. Without these distractions, we can be free to sit, appreciate the food in front of us and the people around us. Take a few deep breaths. Enjoy a moment of gratitude. Smile.
When you sit down, take a minute to check in with yourself to see what you are bringing to the table. Are you preoccupied with a work problem? Did you just have a stressful phone call with your brother? Are you angry at yourself for picking a fight with your partner? Recognize these feelings and try bringing yourself to a more peaceful state before enjoying your meal. If that's not possible, you may want to take a walk around the block before eating.
3. Notice everything about your food.
Observe the colors and variety of what is on your plate. What does it smell like? Where did it come from? How did it get to your table? See if experiencing your food beyond taste gives you a different perspective on your meal.
4. Put your fork down.
Eat slowly and put your fork down after every few bites. Figure out how full you want to be when you leave the table and see if you have reached that satisfied feeling. Eating until we are too full often overtaxes our bodies and disrupts our blood sugar levels. Maybe you have had enough of a certain food yet are still hungry for another. Maybe your palette has changed since the beginning of your meal.
5. Nourish yourself.
Before heading to the kitchen for a snack, ask yourself what you are actually hungry for. Are you actually just tired? Bored? Upset? Thirsty? If you are indeed hungry, what food(s) would make you feel good? You may crave those cookies, but how will they make you feel? What is your inner voice telling you?
How do these practices work for you? How nourished do you feel? What other practices do you invite in to your life to eat more mindfully?