What and how we eat is often influenced by our thoughts and emotions, sometimes in unhelpful ways. Here are some tips on changing negative habits around food and making eating a positive experience in our lives.
- Start small
Don’t try to do everything at once. Even if you know what you ‘SHOULD’ do, just pick one thing to change and focus on that for a while. When you feel comfortable with that, add something else.
- Acknowledge and honor your hunger—listen to your body
Allow yourself to feel your hunger. Accept and embrace it. Don’t react to hunger or try to fix it, just be with it for a while and pay attention to what your body wants. Are you craving something warm and comforting, or cold and crisp? Something light or really filling? It is incredibly satisfying to eat after really experiencing hunger.
- Get rid of distractions—turn off the television/screen
This is especially important. It is hard enough to be engaged and focused on your food with just the distractions of your own mind and technology adds yet another layer between you and mindful eating.
- Engage with your food-before, during and after your meal
This is the crux of mindful eating. Think about your food at every stage of the meal, from the growth of the ingredients, to what your body wants, to what kinds of textures and flavors you are craving, to the pleasure and meditation of preparing it, to finally sitting down and really enjoying it.
- Understand your emotions, but don’t eat because of them
This is very difficult, because we are experiencing emotions all the time, and they influence how we feel, which affects what and how we want to eat. But you can acknowledge your emotion, while making conscious choices about what to eat! You will always be glad you stopped and acted intentionally.
- Get rid of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels
While we hear about foods that are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for us all the time, there is no reason to beat yourself up or make things more complicated. If you are putting energy into taking care of yourself, then you deserve treats and snacks and junk from time to time-with no judgement. Also, once you start eating more mindfully, you will find that your cravings change, and what once was satisfying may be less satisfying now and vice versa.
- Eat with others—share a meal/your food
There are several reasons to eat with others. There is the opportunity to share the pleasure of the food itself, and the special treat of feeding someone with food you put your heart into preparing. Also, there is the emotional support and connection of friends that is so valuable, and often we are more motivated to prepare and sit down for a meal when we are sharing it with or feeding someone.
- Take your time
Find out more about slowing down and becoming aware. This seems like a very simple rule, but is surprisingly difficult. We are used to eating on the go, often without even sitting down or getting out of the car. A large part of mindful eating is giving yourself time to savor your food and taste each bite the whole time you are chewing. Put your fork down in between bites. Pause between bites and look at the food on your plate—what do you see? With practice, you may become so aware of your food and your experience that you are not even thinking about the time.
- Stop before you feel full
When we are eating mindlessly and eating without thinking about it, it is easy to keep eating. Part of mindful eating is knowing what it feels like to feel satisfied, which is not the same as being full. It takes our brain about 20 minutes before it gets the message that we are full. There is a point at which your hunger is satiated, but there may be a little room left—that is a very comfortable and balanced place to be. It is also a way of acknowledging and honoring the bounty and privilege that we have. Most likely, what we think is a typical portion is more than what we need.
- Have fun—enjoy the process
This is really important. Figure out what part of mindful eating you really enjoy and do it more. Is it the cooking, the gardening, or setting the table? Whatever it is, find ways to incorporate it into your routine and make it fun. Be sure to make that part of your routine. If you want to be successful with eating mindfully, you need to enjoy it.