Eat Mindfully

Mindfulness is having present-moment attention and awareness of yourself, the situation and the environment around you. Being mindful enables you to make choices and decisions consciously and respond with clarity and focus, rather than reacting out of a habit.

Awareness without judgement or criticism.

 

Mindful eating involves being attentive to what you eat, how you eat and how you feel before, during and after you eat. Mindful eating requires you to simply acknowledge and accept rather than judge the feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations you observe. It also extends to the process of buying, preparing, and serving your food in addition to consuming it.

 

Mindful eating eat at a table
Eat whole foods
Mindful eating eat without distraction

Mindful Eating Helps You...

  1. Slow down and take a break from the hustle and bustle of your day, easing stress and anxiety.

  2. Examine and change your relationship with food—helping you to notice when you turn to food for reasons other than hunger, for example.

  3. Derive greater pleasure from the food you eat, as you learn to slow down and more fully appreciate your meals and snacks.

  4. Make healthier choices about what you eat by focusing on how each type of food makes you feel after eating it.

  5. Improve your digestion by eating slower.

  6. Feel fuller sooner and by eating less food.

  7. Make a greater connection to where your food comes from, how it’s produced, and the journey it’s taken to your plate.

  8. Eat in a healthier, more balanced way.

The practice of mindful eating can be different for everyone.

 

Being mindful of what you eat can mean being aware of its source, production or farming methods, and sustainability; being aware of its nutrient value, freshness, cooking methods, quality and quantity.  

Being mindful of how you eat can mean being aware of how fast or slow you are eating, the tools you use for eating (dishes and utensils, using your hands, eating out of a box, eating out of a wrapper), the environment you are eating in, the position you are in, your body postures and who you are with. 

Being mindful to the act of eating can mean being aware of the tastes, textures, aromas, mouth feel, and visual aspects of what you are eating. 

Being mindful of how you feel before, during and after you eat can mean recognizing hunger and fullness cues, being aware fo your emotional state, being aware of your stress level, noticing how certain foods make you feel physically both in the short term (such as bloating, fullness, reflux, satisfaction) and long term (such as energy levels, sustained fullness, reactions), and recognizing the emotional connection with certain foods. 

 

With mindful eating you can start building skills to help yourself eat sustainably and well. You will develop a better understanding and appreciation of your body, its signals and responses, the food you eat and the dynamic interplay between these elements. Any small improvement in your eating practices, awareness and attention will have a positive impact on your well being. 

Mindful eating
Get Started with Mindful Eating
mindful eating tips

1. Make Informed Food Choices:

Food Purchases:

Create a shopping list and consider the health value of everything you put on it. Consider what foods you want in your house and what foods you want to keep out of your house. If you notice foods on your list that aren't in keeping with your values or goals think of alternatives before going shopping. Ex. you automatically purchase honey nut cheerios, why not consider plain cheerios or a mix of plain and honey nut? You automatically grab chips to snack on, why not consider buying popcorn or fresh veggies and hummus to snack on. You automatically grab ground beef for tacos, why not consider trying a 50:50 mix of lentils:beef or adding chopped mushroom:beef.

 

Recognize impulse purchases you make and be cognizant of avoiding them before you even begin shopping, have a plan. 

 

If you eat out frequently, order take-out/delivery foods, eat catered foods or eat from a cafeteria, put thought into your choices before the moment of purchase. Know what restaurants and services provide food that meets your values and nutritional needs. Understand the choices and menu items, and have a list of go-to foods on the go that support your needs. Have a plan for any surprise dining occasions Ex. Look for a meal that contains fibre (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans) and lean protein (chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, beans), or, Only plan on eating half of whatever you order. 

 

Putting thought into your food purchases creates a supportive structure to enable healthy change. 

 

Meal Choices:

When making meal choices, keep your values and goals in mind rather than grabbing the first thing you see, following an impulse or following a habitual decision Ex. You always add mayonnaise to your sandwiches, do you have to? Why not try and egg on whole grain toast instead of a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal, or a yogurt with fruit. You always get French fries as a side to your meal. Consider going without a side dish, or opting for some fresh fruit or vegetables, steamed vegetables, baked potato, side salad or vegetable soup. Consider having your taco meat and cheese over a bed of lettuce or cabbage rather than in wraps and shells. Put thought into your meals. Make choices that align with your personal goals. This is made much easier if you put thought into your food purchases!

 

2. Eat Slowly: 

Eating slowly allows the digestive system to work at its best, it allows hunger signals to abate and fullness signals to appear, it allows you to recognize the amount you are eating and the substance of what you are eating; it allows you to taste, appreciate and enjoy your food. 

Methods to help you eat slower include: setting down utensils between bites; taking a sip of water between bites; focussing on conversation when not eating, focussing on your food when eating; taking smaller bites and chewing thoroughly; serve yourself a smaller portion of food to begin with; bring all your senses to the meal, observe, smell, taste and savour each bite; pace yourself to the slowest eater.

Recognize factors that affect your eating speed such as: the time of day you are eating, who you are eating with, what you are eating, where you are eating, and why you are eating. If you can identify certain situations, environments, people or food substances that cause you to rush eating you can come up with a plan to alter this, or be prepared for these situations. 

3. Eat Without Distraction:

Eating without distractions allows you to place your full attention onto what you are eating. It allows you to recognize the amount you are eating and the substance of what you are eating; it allows you to taste, appreciate and enjoy your food. 

Eating without distraction means eating without TV, computer, mobile devices, work, driving, books, magazines or newspapers. This can be a surprisingly difficult task, so start by trying to eat just one meal a day without distraction and see what that's like. 

Recognize factors that add to distraction while eating such as: the time of day you are eating, who you are eating with, what you are eating, where you are eating, and why you are eating. If you can identify certain situations, environments, people or food substances that distract you while eating you can come up with a plan to alter this, or be prepared for these situations. 

 

4. Recognize Hunger and Fullness Cues:

Most adults do not have appetite awareness -- an internal sense of when to eat and when to stop eating -- instead they rely on external cues such as:

 

  • social norms,

  • other people,

  • a certain time of day,

  • a certain event,

  • an emotional state (anger, boredom, stress, sadness),

  • work schedules,

  • availability of food.

Many adults fall into habits of eating when they are not hungry and eating to the point of being "stuffed". We also avoid eating when they are hungry, suppress appetite with coffee/tea, chewing gum and diet sodas, skip meals and restrict intake. Therefore, we don't trust our hunger and fullness cues and only recognize extreme hunger and extreme fullness, we don't know how to navigate the land in between. 

Basic appetite awareness is one of the most useful and accurate ways someone can recognize how much food their body needs, and be able to regulate it. 

Starting the process of appetite awareness isn't straightforward, there is a working-in period, and a period of establishing trust with yourself and your body.

 

Start by taking a few days to monitor how you feel throughout the day. Use a Hunger-Fullness scale to determine your hunger levels before and after you eat and anytime you think about eating throughout the day, write it down. Review your recordings and notice patterns, such as always eating dinner when you are ravenous; not being able to stop until you are stuffed; Skipping breakfast/lunch although you are moderately hungry, or eating breakfast/lunch even though you are not hungry at all; or constantly eating to a point of being overly full. 

Aim to start eating meals when you are at about a level 3-4 and stopping eating when you are at about 6-7. This won't be feasible in every situation, but the goal is to try and incorporate appetite awareness and eating accordingly, as much as you can throughout your day and week. This will help end the restrict-binge cycle and enable you to regulate your energy balance in any situation without external tools, guides or sources. Use an Appetite Awareness worksheet if you wish.

HUNGER-FULLNESS SCALE

  1. Starving, weak, dizzy

  2. Very hungry, cranky, low energy, lots of stomach growling

  3. Pretty hungry, stomach is growling a little

  4. Starting to feel a little hungry

  5. Satisfied, neither hungry nor full

  6. A little full, pleasantly full

  7. A little uncomfortable

  8. Feeling stuffed

  9. Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts

  10. So full you feel sick

5. Eat Without Judgement

 

Eating is a pleasurable experience and mindful eating is meant to enhance that pleasure. It is important to both nourish the body as well as the mind. Often when we eat foods we consider nutritionally devoid we feel guilty and a sense that the food is bad or wrong, and that we are doing something bad or wrong.

 

Becoming more cognizant of our food choices, hunger levels and energy needs does not mean we cannot eat simply out of enjoyment, it means making conscious choices. When you consciously choose to allow yourself a treat, as opposed to the “eat first ask questions later” approach, you experience more pleasure and less remorse from your indulgence.

Allow yourself to eat the foods you love, and to eat without judgement. Enjoy food for what it is and what it means to you. Practice consciously choosing foods you consider "treats" or "nutritionally inferior" when you desire them. You don't have to do this with every whim and desire, but make the choice about when a particular food is worth it to you. Practice eating with joy and when in a good mood, be positive towards yourself, your body, and the food you eat. 

 

6. Recognize Energy Needs:

Some people fall into a trap of restricting and bingeing; keeping it "all together" during the day and "falling apart" at night, or "all together" during the week, and "going wild" on the weekends. Some people miss meals due to busyness or forgetting to prepare. This can lead to low energy for workouts, poor mental performance, poor mood and overeating when food and time becomes available. Some people eat at scheduled times due to routine or habit, but don't actually require food at those times. Being attentive to your energy level, performance and mood in relation to what and when you eat is a component of mindful eating. Some people perform optimally eating 2 larger meals per day where others perform optimally eating 6 smaller meals. Some individuals prefer working out in a fasted state where as others require food beforehand. 

Keep track of how you feel in relation to what and when you eat. Adjust your eating schedule accordingly. perhaps you need to eat more frequently during the day, less frequently or at altered times. Plan and prepare meals to have on hand throughout your day to meet your needs. Plan and prepare meals the evening before so they are ready to go for the morning and you aren't left scrambling. Keep healthy snack options at work, in the car or other areas you may need them. If you don't have time to sit down and eat a meal during the day, keep portable, quick snacks on hand to meet your needs. This can include options such as protein bars, smoothies, a nut butter or cheese sandwich, fresh fruit or pre-cut veggies, cheese sticks, yogurts, milk carton, granola bar, or hard boiled eggs. Anything that is convenient, easily stored, easy to eat and meets your nutrition needs.