Stop and think about the last meal you ate today. Try to describe it in detail. What did the food smell like? Do you recall how the food felt in your mouth? How did it taste? Were there specific spices in the food? Was it hot or cold? Were there vibrant colors? Did you chew the food thoroughly? Do you remember exactly when you felt full?
Answering some of these questions can be difficult. Some people find they remember a lot of things about eating except the meal itself, i.e. mindless eating. Maybe you remember specific text messages on your phone or details from your favorite TV show. Perhaps your memory is dominated by the restless thoughts that consumed you while eating. Implementing mindful eating can help you make healthy behavior changes and guide you down the path to wellness.
Photo courtesy of the Center for Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is a Buddhist idea described as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. There are five components to mindfulness1:
- Observe – Be aware of the sensations that result from taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight.
- Describe – Put the thoughts and feelings that come from observation into words.
- Awareness – Avoid distraction. Relax the mind. Resist wandering thoughts. Stay in the present moment.
- Non-Judgement – Accept any internal thoughts and feelings without criticism.
- Non-Reaction – Think before reacting to internal experiences.
Mindfulness at the grocery store: Determine what food you have on hand and the meals you plan on cooking. Then make a list of foods to purchase. Be aware of the present moment at the store. Avoid distracting thoughts – leave them at the door. Pay attention to the color and feel of foods as well as the sounds and smells around you. Mindfulness improves self-control, helping you stick to your list while avoiding unhealthy, impulse purchases. If you are tempted to stray from your initial plan, resist the urge to react quickly and without thought. Acknowledge the desire without judgement and think critically about WHY you want to buy this food.
Mindfulness at the table: Turn off your phone, computer, and television. These are all distractions that undermine mindfulness. Engage in the meal. After eating you should be able to describe the flavor, taste, and texture of the food. Chew your food thoroughly, paying close attention to physical hunger and fullness cues.
The Center for Mindful Eating states that “mindfulness training effectively decreases emotional eating”. Practicing mindfulness is related to higher levels of physical activity and fruit and vegetable intake and lower levels of obesity, central adiposity, and cardiovascular disease2-3. Mindful eating requires you to ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry?” before eating. It makes you to pay attention to what your body is telling you, restoring natural hunger/fullness cues. Say goodbye to accidently binging on snack food while watching TV or finding comfort in sugary desserts during periods of stress. Eating mindfully means enjoying and savoring every bite and eating only when your body needs nutrition. As a result you will tend to choose healthier, whole foods in smaller portion sizes.
“We overeat not because we enjoy food too much – it is because we don’t enjoy it enough”
-Charles Eisenstein, The Yoga of Eating
Lifestyle changes are difficult to make, but mindfulness can help. Whether it is decreasing your sodium intake, eating fewer processed foods, exercising more, lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet, or eating more whole grains and fruits and vegetables, relapse is inevitable. At some point you will fall back on old, familiar behaviors and become discouraged. With discouragement can come the urge to completely give up. Remember the five components of mindfulness. Acknowledge the discouragement but do not over-identify with the feeling. Mindfulness helps you avoid negative, knee jerk reactions and keep the big picture in mind. You can do it!
- 1.Gilbert D, Waltz J. Mindfulness and Health Behaviors. Mindfulness. 2010;1:227-234.
- Loucks EB, Britton WB, Howe CJ, et al. Associations of Dispositional Mindfulness with Obesity and Central Adiposity: the New England Family Study. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2015.
- Loucks EB, Britton WB, Howe CJ, Eaton CB, Buka SL. Positive Associations of Dispositional Mindfulness with Cardiovascular Health: the New England Family Study. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2014;22:540-550.
- The Center for Mindful Eating, Food for Thought. Mindful Eating and Weight, Controversies and Conversation, Winter, 2016.
Author: Jake Brown, Dietetic Intern, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH.
Reviewer: Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County