If you're ready to ditch the diet but aren't quite sure what to do instead, Mindful Eating can be a powerful first step towards a new relationship with food.
Mindful Eating is one of the most underrated health habits out there. Bringing mindfulness to the table can completely change your emotional experience with food, and in more practical terms, it directly affects your digestion and how well you absorb nutrients. Yes, it's that good!
You'll also want to try Mindful Eating if you struggle with Emotional Eating or intense cravings during the day. Eating mindfully is about a lot more than just eating slowly. It gives you practical tools to listen to your body and learn to distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger.
So, how do you do that? What does Mindful Eating even mean? Fear not. I got you covered with today's post.
What are you eating?
Diet culture puts a lot of emphasis on WHAT you're eating. From "superfood" trends to plans based on removing specific foods (or entire food groups!), diets disconnect us from our natural instincts and knowledge about food.
If you've been dieting for a long time, you might find the notion of Mindful Eating a bit puzzling at first because it encourages you to bring your attention to your food but without the morality that's usually attached to diets.
When eating mindfully, you will reflect and notice several aspects of the eating experience but never label any of it good or bad. It's all about observing and being fully present with food so that you can acknowledge your true desires and needs.
Also funny side-effect: by focusing less on the WHAT most of us make more nourishing and satisfying eating choices because we take the feelings of scarcity and deprivation out of the equation!
Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating
Mindful Eating is one of the many tools you can use as you start practicing Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating is pretty much our default mode. We're all born knowing how to eat "normally," intuitively. As babies, we cry to be fed when we're hungry, we know to stop when we're full, and we eat whatever seems good to us. But, growing up in Diet Culture, we lose our connection to that innate knowing we're born with.
It's damn hard to eat intuitively and listen to your body when you're checked out from the eating experience. So Mindful Eating is one of the tools you can use to restore that connection between your body and your brain, and that's why it's so powerful for those of us needing help understanding our cravings and hunger cues.
I'm Sold, Now What?
When you're no longer obsessing over WHAT you're eating, you can focus on other elements of the eating experience, such as the WHY and the HOW.
Connecting with your WHY isn't about policing your eating, but just making sure that you're conscious and aware of your eating habits and what motivates them. For example, if you're an emotional eater, you might unconsciously eat to find comfort. Or maybe you're a distracted snacker, powering through bowls of nuts just because they're next to you.
None of those behaviors are bad in isolation, but the unconscious habit might lead to eating that isn't aligned with what we want or need. By taking a minute before eating to check-in with yourself, you're back in control of your eating experience and making sure it's indeed serving you as you expect.
Eating mindfully is also a lot about the HOW of eating. It encourages you to slow down, relax before eating, chew slowly, and genuinely savor your food. All of that has a significant impact on your digestion, improving how you process your meals and how well you absorb the nutrients in them. You'll also be able to notice your satiety signals in time to stop eating when you're full instead of only when you're already stuffed.
How to Eat Mindfully
I've created a Mindful Eating checklist that you can use the first few times you try to eat more mindfully. It'll give pointers of what to look for at different stages of your meal, so make sure to download it below!
Here are the main pillars of the HOW of Mindful Eating:
- Eat slowly. make sure you chew each bite properly. Don't make this a mechanical and tedious task though! It's about taking small pieces and making time to savor and taste what you have in your mouth. You can notice how it changes the texture and flavor changes as you eat, take big breaths between bites, or take a few seconds to observe how you feel.
- No distractions. Eat at the table and without a device in your hand, or the TV turned on. Those distractions will make it hard for you to tune into the experience of eating because they'll clog your senses with other stimuli.
- Start with an empty plate. Your meal starts before you even take a bite. Start being mindfully from the moment you're deciding what to eat. That's when you'll connect to your WHY and stop to think about what you actually feel like eating. That's a game-changer when you have a bit too many options to choose from, think Thanksgiving dinner or Subway line.
- Pay attention to your body. Notice how the messages your body is sending you change as you start eating. How does your belly feel? Do you feel energized? A bit lethargic? If you feel a bit out of touch with your hunger and fullness signals, you'll want to actively note how you physically feel before, during, and after your meals.
- Engage all your senses. Mindful Eating is most powerful when you engage all your senses in your experience. Take a moment to look at your food, notice its colors and try to imagine what it'll taste like. Just before taking a bite, let the aroma of your meal reach your nose. Maybe dig deeper to understand what emotions or emotions come with certain smells. When chewing, pay attention to the flavors and how they blend. Which textures can you feel?
Mindful Eating in the Real World
If you're anything like me, you're probably thinking this sounds like a whole lot of work for eating. That was undoubtedly my reaction when I was first introduced to the idea of Mindful Eating.
As you start working on mending your relationship with food and listening to your body, it's useful to have a handful of mindful meals every week. The practice will help you reconnect with your hunger and fullness cues, rediscover your favorite flavors and food, and heal your digestive system from all the damage caused by the stress of restrictive diets.
I'm all about what's sustainable for a lifetime though, and I know that a life of three mindful meals every day is unfeasible for most of us, if not all! As you progress in your food freedom journey, you can start making tweaks to the Mindful Eating habit so that it blends seamlessly with your life. Here are some ideas:
- Take mindful bites. Start your meal by being fully present, let yourself engage with others sitting at the table with you, eat a bit more, and then find another mindful bite halfway through. Repeat this until you're satisfied, so you're sure not to miss the satiety signals your body is sending you.
- Have a mindful snack. Take a break to sit with your bite and enjoy it mindfully. That can be a very relaxing and energizing habit for your afternoon bite. If you've been working for a couple of hours, it's refreshing to take a mindful break, so why not make it a conscious eating opportunity?
- Honor your cravings mindfully. If you're dealing with strong desires, make sure you're indulging in them mindfully. With intense urges, it's often easy to eat quickly and unconsciously, only stopping way past our point of comfort. Resisting cravings will just make them stronger, so mindfully honoring them will bring your WHY to clarity as well as help you eat only as much as you want to.
Remember, lasting habits are those that we can sustain AND enjoy in the long run. Don't turn Mindful Eating into a dreadful practice or something that brings stress to your meals. That would, in fact, undo all the benefits that come with bringing mindfulness to the table. Our digestive system is designed to shut down when we're under stress, so if taking your time with your meal is making you anxious because you have OH SO MANY things to do, then don't obsess over it, okay?
Over to You!
So, do you feel like giving Mindful Eating a try?
If you're serious about ditching the diet, make sure you do. Committing to this practice, however it fits your routine, will help you feel back in control of your eating experience and reconnect you with your body's innate wisdom about food.
A lot of people recognize the benefits of Mindful Eating without really taking action to practice it. That's why I say it's one of the most underrated health habits out there: people acknowledge it but don't actively make it part of the conversation on health and recovery from food struggles.
Give yourself the gift of Mindful Eating. Start with one mindful meal a week, if that's all you can commit to right now. Get started today by downloading the Mindful Eating checklist below!
Join the Conversation
Need some help bringing Mindful Eating to your life? Want to share your experience and hear from others? Come hang out with me and other smart ladies in the Food Freedom Tribe on Facebook. It's our FREE private community for women ready to ditch the diet and feel their best without nonsense.