When was the last time you truly paid attention to what you were eating — when you truly savored the experience of food? Often, we eat on autopilot, chowing down a meal while our attention is on the TV or the screen of our devices or a book or a daydream. Mindfulness invites us to remove those distractions and sit uninterrupted with our food and fellow diners. In doing so, we begin to take our time over a meal.
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In eating more slowly, we savor the flavors, the aromas, and the textures. We reconnect with our senses. Once we bring our attention to the entire experience of eating, we stop getting lost in the thinking mind and become less caught up in any complicated emotions we might have around food.
Quite simply, we allow ourselves to be re-acquainted with the pleasure of eating. To be clear, on its own, mindful eating is not a diet. No radical cleanses, no eliminating certain foods, no clearing out your cupboards, no fads, and no quick fixes. Mindful eating simply invites us to be present while cooking or eating, allowing us to truly savor our food without any judgment, guilt, anxiety, or inner commentary. This approach is about spending less time focused on your weight and the storylines around your weight. Conventional diet culture causes much of our stress around eating, bringing a heap of pressure, intensity, and false expectations.
Consequently, many of us tend to view food as a reward or punishment. People obsessed with being thin might undereat and suppress feelings of hunger, whereas people who overeat might ignore feelings of fullness. Moreover, when people internalize ideas built around dieting—buying into the marketing that suggests losing weight is as easy as —then the pressures and emotions are heightened. Mindful eating seeks to undo such thinking, encouraging us to let go of the traditional all-or-nothing mindset, and instead eat according to our natural body weight, not the body weight prescribed by magazine images and media-fueled pressure.
There is no strategy or calorie-counting involved. We are simply trying to be aware. Bringing mindfulness to the table means a kinder, gentler approach to eating. The problem, most scientists agree, is that it takes a good 20 minutes before that message is received. Therefore, much of our overeating happens during that minute window. We learn, in effect, to be one step ahead of ourselves. So, when talking to our own children, we can use these same cues to show them how to listen their states of hunger and fullness rather than ignore them.
Mindful Eating Mobile Health Apps: Review and Appraisal
In its fullest sense, mindfulness means not only being present but also curious and interested, with a willingness to explore how and why we think and feel the way we do — without judgment. This is no more apropos than when it comes to our eating habits. What does my body need? How satiated do I feel halfway through this meal? Am I scarfing down my food or enjoying it? Is this portion too much or not enough? Awareness is something we can also bring to the supermarket and the kitchen. It helps us learn not to make choices that are automatically influenced by external thoughts, emotions, or impulses but instead by our own internal knowledge of what our bodies need.
The mind is powerful, and when left untrained, it can be a susceptible to both emotion and habit. We meditate to train the mind — to find the space to make better choices in the interests of our overall health, not our body shape or weight. There is no one perfect way to eat in the same way that there is no one perfect body.
We each have our own genetics, metabolisms, preferences, and priorities. Some of us gorge; some of us graze. Some snack; some comfort eat.
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Some undereat; others overeat. Some are gym bunnies obsessing about stacking on the pounds while others are diet junkies, obsessing about losing the pounds. Knowing who we are — and being honest with ourselves — helps us understand why we eat the way we do. The more we recognize those early influences, the better positioned we are to decide what and when we choose to eat.
For people who undereat, the effect of this awareness may be that they may eat more; for people who tend to overeat, they may consume less. Others may find their eating patterns remain the same while their thinking around food changes.
In this respect, mindful eating is an equalizer, allowing us to find a balance in how we relate to food. We each have our own attitudes and patterns of behavior around food, whether this is due to genetics, circumstances, or family conditioning. Awareness of those origins provides the foundation for mindful eating, but the only way to understand our relationship with food is to spend time with that relationship. Mindfulness inserts a pause to help us be aware of our own decision-making. Only when we stop to notice this chain of events can we start to change our behavior or thinking about food.
This is a skill mindfulness affords, meaning we can consider our food selections in advance. In bringing more planning to our grocery list, restaurant menu, or kitchen, we are less inclined to feel any guilt or shame about our balanced choices. In observing the mind in this way, we can free ourselves from emotions that fuel our habits.
Imagine what it would be like to no longer be led by our inner dialogue around food.
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Imagine instead having a more balanced, carefree attitude, freed from the shackles of poor eating habits. As we step away from all the unhealthy thinking around food, we cultivate a sustainable and balanced approach to the way we eat and the way we look. Essentially, we get to re-educate ourselves. We get to enjoy our food again.
How often do you think about food on any given day? You might travel by a fruit stand on your commute, for example. Or maybe all you can think about while heading home is that ripe avocado waiting for you on the counter. Food is simply the object of our fascination and cravings. It has no power over us in and of itself. The power rests in our emotions, our conditioning, and our decisions. Without understanding the thoughts and emotions involved in our relationship with food, there can be no room for change. One of the biggest realizations that comes with mindful eating is how much we are influenced by what we think and feel.
Simple But Powerful Steps to Mindful Eating
Food is fuel. We need it to live. Once we get a handle on our thoughts and emotions around food, we weaken its hold over us and learn not to judge ourselves so harshly. The benefits of mindful eating will, of course, be subjective. Food is energy.
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Food is power. Food is love. Food inspires us. Food is an experience.
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Can you tell I love food? Well, not all food. Just real ingredients and delicious dishes that are made from scratch with love, elegance, and purpose. As a Registered Dietitian and superfood chef, I am mindful of how much and how often I indulge and understand that one must indulge from time to time for the sake the experience and bigger picture. But when I do indulge, I make it count and I make it worth it.
Because there are some many amazing things in this world that I never want to waste it on something that is so not worth it. One of the biggest reasons I became a Registered Dietitian is because I wanted to teach people how to live healthy without giving up the things that make them happy and bridge the gap between healthy and fun.
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I also wanted to teach people how to live and eat their way to happiness through food. However, this kind of happiness I talk about is much bigger, better, deeper than the happiness one gets from eating a piece of chocolate cake. Over the years, I have learned that you really can have it all— you can be an awesome parent, spouse friend, family member, live a healthy life and have a successful career.
You absolutely can live healthy and still have a social life! The key is to make everything better and start paying attention to your life on purpose.