In today’s world, it’s impossible to escape distractions. Your smartphone constantly barrages you with updates about political goings-on. Your kids require undivided attention as they show off a new skill. Your email pings non-stop with “urgent” updates from your boss. So it’s easy to understand why the simple act of sitting down for a meal, totally focused on the food itself, has quickly become a thing of the past. But health experts are trying to revive the old-school approach to dinnertime. It’s called “mindful eating.”
What It Means
Mindful eating is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you practice mindfulness as you eat. That is, you take the time to notice the flavors and aromas of the food, the way eating it makes you feel and other details during mealtime. Sounds simple, right? Not so much. You might already have a set routine for family dinner at the table, and that’s a great start. But do you, your significant other or your kids have your smartphones on the table as you eat? Then you’re robbing yourself of a true mindful eating experience. What’s more, when it comes to breakfast and lunch, which are often hurried, most people don’t get anywhere close to mindfulness. If you usually grab a granola bar or a yogurt on your way out the door in the morning and eat it in the car, chances are you aren’t taking the time to savor it. If you munch on lunch with your eyes glued to the computer, that’s a prime example of mindless eating. Ask yourself: are you really savoring and enjoying your meals? Do you eat mindfully on a daily basis?
Why It Matters
If you answered “no” to the previous questions, you might wonder why it matters. The answer is simple. It can improve your health. Eating mindfully is what your body was designed to do. That’s why you feel signals of hunger and satiation. You were made to translate those messages into action organically, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. The only problem is that the noise of the modern world often drowns out these signals. In fact, some research suggests that people who don’t focus on their meal tend to eat 69% more than mindful eaters. That overeating often leads to weight gain. And extra weight comes with an entire host of problems, from decreased energy to an increased risk for certain diseases. So if you’ve been struggling to maintain a healthy weight or lower your cholesterol levels, mindful eating could be the key to finally breaking through the barrier.
Where to Start
Now that you understand the importance of mindful eating, you’re ready to get started. It’s difficult to shift your mealtime habits overnight, so don’t expect to. Instead, gradually begin to incorporate mindful-eating techniques. This way, you’ll slowly tweak the way you eat and create lasting change. Here are a few approaches to try.
Listen to Your Body
As mentioned above, your body already has the appropriate mechanisms in place to regulate when you eat. The problem is that you’re too consumed by the latest celebrity news or political tweets to pay any attention to them. Practice thoughtfully assessing your hunger before you begin to eat. Let your natural hunger cues guide when you eat meals and, more importantly, how much you eat. It often takes about 15 minutes after a meal for your body to recognize that it’s satisfied and doesn’t require any more fuel. So instead of compulsively snacking after lunch, eat a proper portion and then give yourself some time. Go for a walk, make a phone call or return a few emails and then check back in with your body. Are you still hungry? Then perhaps your meal wasn’t large enough to begin with and you should pack an extra side tomorrow.
Unplug From the World
If you’re in the habit of checking your smartphone while you each lunch or watching TV as you devour dinner, it’s time to create a new routine. Put away your phone — or, even better, turn it off entirely — and head to the kitchen table for dinner instead of the coffee table. When you remove these distractions, you’ll have more mental space to devote to the dinnertime.
Savor Your Meal
With the distractions at bay and your mind fully focused on your meal, slow down and enjoy it. Really take the time to experience the flavors of the food and savor each bite. This will probably require that you eat more slowly, especially if you typically scarf down a meal before your next meeting. Take note of the texture of the food, its aroma and how your body feels after eating it. You’ll likely eat less. Bonus: eating slower may prevent awkward digestive issues (i.e., gas)!
Source Food Locally
When you know exactly who is responsible for the food on your plate, you may have a higher level of respect for a meal. With that level of respect comes a duty to treat your food well — by eating it mindfully, not chowing down without a thought. To this end, you should think about buying local food. When you grab food at a farmers market or a local shop, you often get the chance to meet the people who worked hard to bring it to your table. This association can be a powerful one when it comes time to sit down at that table. So take full advantage of any opportunities to buy food from local purveyors. The transition to mindful eating is a process, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t pry yourself away from the TV immediately. Start slowly and add in elements of mindfulness one by one. Maybe one week you’ll be able to restrain yourself from answering emails during lunch, and by the next, you’ll take your entire lunch break to finish a meal. When it comes to mindful eating, slow and steady wins the race.