When most people think about healthier eating, consuming more vegetables and fewer sweet treats is often their first thought. While these can be part of a healthy eating plan, mindful eating is another important habit. Mindful eating is about an individual’s relationship with food and eating routines.
What is mindful eating?
Simply put, mindful eating is the practice of examining one’s natural hunger cues, satiety cues, and the sensory aspects of food, such as its texture, smell, look, and taste. It’s an intentional practice that requires the individual to be fully present and eat more thoughtfully.
Anybody can practice mindful eating. It’s not tied to any specific diet or lifestyle; it’s simply a mindfulness practice, like meditation, that can fit into any routine.
How to practice mindful eating
People who are familiar with mindfulness will likely find mindful eating easy. Even those unfamiliar with mindfulness practices can quickly pick up mindful eating—it’s an easy, yet often insightful, exercise.
Below is a step-by-step mindful eating exercise. Before beginning this exercise, one should sit comfortably, turn off all screens, and eliminate any other potential distractions in their environment. The purpose of mindful eating is to focus all of one’s attention on their food and their experience with it; it’s difficult to do this while talking on the phone or watching television.
1. Acknowledge hunger cues
To begin, an individual takes note of their hunger. They might ask themselves, “am I hungry?” They can also take note of any sensations they feel that could indicate hunger, like irritation or lightheadedness. They might focus on the physical sensations of hunger, like a rumbling stomach.
2. Observe the food visually
The next step is to look at the food and take note of its physical characteristics. For example, the individual might examine a banana, noting its peel’s texture and color. Is it still faintly green, or has the banana ripened to a bright yellow? Is its peel bumpy or smooth?
3. Smell the food
Scent is an important part of eating, as it’s closely linked with our sense of taste. By taking the time to smell a piece of food, the individual engages with important sensory information.
For example, after acknowledging the banana’s exterior characteristics, the individual can smell it and note its scent. Does it have a strong smell, or is it faint? Once the banana is peeled, does the interior smell the same as the exterior, or is the scent different?
4. Take a bite
The next step is to take a bite of the food and observe its flavor and texture. Similarly to the previous steps, the individual should note characteristics like whether the food leaves an aftertaste and how its different textures complement each other.
At this stage, the individual can also take note of any physical sensations they experience while eating the food. They might note the banana’s firmness in their grip or how the peel’s interior feels as they pull its sections down further.
5. Finish eating
The last step to mindful eating is for the individual to stop when they are full. To do this, they need to recognize their satiety cues, just like they recognized their hunger cues earlier. Once the individual feels full, they can complete their meal, feeling satisfied. There is no judgment in mindful eating—just observing everything one experiences while eating.
How to eat more slowly
Eating more slowly is an inherent part of mindful eating. Think about it: when somebody is rapidly gobbling up a meal, they aren’t taking the time to focus on the meal’s components and take in their characteristics. They might miss the soft squishiness of a sandwich bun or a lettuce leaf’s cool, crisp snap.
To eat more slowly, one should eliminate all potential distractions during mealtime. As noted above, this means turning off the television, putting away the phone, and avoiding multitasking while eating.
When an individual intentionally observes every flavor, texture, scent, and visual characteristic of their food, their eating is naturally slower. Two or more people can also make mindful eating into a social experience as they discuss each part of their meal, slowing down their eating.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
Mindful eating has many benefits. One benefit, eating more slowly can help an individual eliminate habits like overeating and reaching for dessert after finishing a meal.
Other benefits of mindful eating include:
- Encouraging individuals to choose foods that are nourishing and satisfying
- Enabling individuals to accept their relationships with food
- Bringing awareness to the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences surrounding food
- Bringing attention to the individual’s hunger and satiety cues, which can lead to adopting other healthier habits
Remember, when it comes to mindful eating, it’s not all-or-nothing—even if a member can only manage to practice mindfulness at one meal each day, they can experience its benefits.
Mindful eating is an important, yet often overlooked, healthy eating habit. Emphasize its importance with your members, and make it part of the ongoing conversation about how healthy behavioral habits foster healthier eating, supporting a healthier, happier life.
Interested in bringing healthy meals to your members? Contact LiveWell with Traditions today to learn more about our medically tailored meal options.