Written by: Cherry Zhou, September 2020
What is Mindful Eating
As Jamie Lee, Remix Co-founder and Registered dietitian has also said in this article, “Mindful eating is maintaining in-the-moment awareness of the food and drink you put into your body, observing rather than judging how the food makes you feel and the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction, and fullness. ”
To master the art of mindful eating, you first need to be able to recognize your good and your “not so great” eating habits. However, many of these “not so great” eating habits are driven by the unconscious (1). In other words, you have done them without even realizing. Mindful eating will allow you to gain back control over your eating habits. In fact, you can only take action once you become aware of your behaviors. Easily said, but how can you do it? Well, try answering the "why", "when", "what", "how", "how much", “where” do I eat (2,3). So, let's dig right into the purpose of these questions.
Question 1: Why do I eat?
Being able to recognize your true hunger cues is a huge part in mindful eating. Indeed, your body has very efficient ways to you tell you what it needs:
If it needs rest, you will feel tired, it will say: sleep sleep sleep.
If it needs to get rid of excess water, it will say pee pee pee.
If it needs fuel and energy, it will say eat eat eat.
As you already know, when your body needs fuel or energy, you can feel the emptiness or growls of your stomach, these signals are there for you to listen to. However, many of us are used to eating when our mind needs to be fed, but not our body. To figure out if you have been letting your thoughts unconsciously take over your eating habits, try to focus on your emotions. How did you feel when you were looking for food? For instance, were you stressed? Anxious? Sad? Perhaps, simply bored? Or were you, ultimately, hungry? Sometimes, we associate certain events or activities with food. For example, watching movies and eating popcorn.
- Mindful tip: Ask yourself “am I really hungry” next time you find yourself looking for food.
Question 2: When do I eat?
Here, you would think about how often you eat throughout a day. How far apart are your meals? How many of you have found yourself looking through your fridge and pantry despite having a meal an hour prior? Or even opening the fridge every 30 minutes, as if, by chance, something new or interesting magically appeared? Once again, this is your mind being hungry, not your body.
- Mindful tip: Pour yourself a cup of water when you realize that your mind is hungry.
On the other side, you might be the type of person that regularly skips meals. You might have been following a restrictive diet where you told yourself to Ignore Ignore Ignore your hunger signal. Maybe you were “too busy” to even pay attention to your body yelling Eat Eat Eat. These poor eating habits shut down your hunger signal pathway (4). Consequently, you lose connection between your mind and your body.
- Mindful tip: Plan, schedule, and give yourself enough time to eat. Honor this time as one that you cannot sacrifice.
Question 3: What do I eat?
The third step into being more mindful of your eating habits is to think about what you eat. No, not in terms of calories. Simply what is it? Try to describe its taste, texture, appearance, temperature, mouthfeel, aftertaste.
Furthermore, what are the foods you tend to eat when you are being mindless, that you eat for emotional reasons? Do you end up giving into your cravings despite pushing yourself to restrain from them? Or do you opt for a healthy snack?
- Mindful tip: Write down a list of food you eat. Write down the emotions you felt after eating it.
Question 4: How do I eat?
Now, we reach the question where you should pay attention to your eating pace and eating environment. Are you distracted? Are you scrolling through your phone, watching videos or listening to the news? When your brain gets busy processing all these other sources of information, it fails to dedicate itself to the eating experience. Do you eat the same way when you are at home vs. outside? Alone vs. with friends or family?
- Mindful tip: Provide yourself a distraction free environment. For example, put your phone away.
Question 5: How much do I eat?
As discussed previously, your body gives you signals to eat. Similarly to these cues, your body also alerts you to stop eating. Despite individual variability, there is definitely a delay in time for your brain to understand these cues. In fact, we hear the general rule that it could take up to 20 minutes to send the “I’m full, stop” signal to our brain. Therefore, it is especially easy to end up stuffed when you eat too quickly. How do you feel after overeating?
- Mindful tip: put your utensils down between each bite. This will give you the chance to savor every bite of your food.
Also, keep in mind that finishing everything on your plate is not what it takes to be full. Many people have been growing up with their parents telling them to clean up their plates to call it an end to mealtime. This can lead to bad eating habits as adults which are important to break in order to be more mindful when eating.
Question 6: Where do I eat?
Finally, where are you when you are eating? Do you allow yourself to be in an environment that is meant for eating? Were you on your sofa, in front of your computer, or on your way to XYZ? Was it a place that again, is full of distractions that pull you away from a sensational eating experience?
- Mindful tip: Sit down at a table to help you stay focused and limit distractions.
Practice mindful eating
That was a lot of self-reflection. How many of your “not so good” eating habits have you been able to notice? Now that you are aware of your mindless eating behaviors, it’s time to take action! And the best way to do that is to identify one or two tips that you can start doing and implementing them into your lifestyle. How about practicing it along with our #beanbarkchallenge that involves eating chocolate?
Harris, C. (2020). Mindful Eating — Studies Show This Concept Can Help Clients Lose Weight and Better Manage Chronic Disease. Today’s Dietitian, (15), 42. Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030413p42.shtml
Government of Canada. (2020). Be mindful of your eating habits.
Ackerman, C. (2020). 58 Science-Based Mindful Eating Exercises and Tips. Retrieved 2 September 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/mindful-eating-exercises/
Dr. Jason Fung, M. (2020). How to not get hungry: Fasting and ghrelin - Diet Doctor. Retrieved 3 September 2020, from https://www.dietdoctor.com/not-get-hungry-fasting-ghrelin