The very fact that you’re reading this article means that you’re already gaining a great advantage when it comes to your health and your diet.
Why? Because it means you’re thinking about those things. It means you’re mindful of those things. And that is more than you can say about the vast majority of people.
Mindfulness is a very in-vogue topic at the moment and is heralded as something of a panacea for just about every health problem under the sun. It can help fight depression, reduce stress, boost our health, help us sleep… and now apparently, I’m about to tell you that it can make you thinner too?
Only this one is different. While most ‘cure-all-promises’ tend to be hollow at best, mindful eating is a simple practice that really can improve your life in all those ways.
That’s because being more mindful simply means being more conscious of your choices, of the way you feel and of the way you want to be affected by what’s going on in the world around you.
It means taking the time to notice what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling and how those things are influencing your behavior.
This all probably sounds a little abstract and wishy-washy at this point though. So let’s take a look at how mindful eating really works, and how you can start using it right now to get real, practical results.
What is Mindfulness?
The term ‘mindful eating’ actually comes from another practice: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of therapy that attempts to address mental health issues by looking at the underlying thoughts, beliefs and ‘ruminations’ that might be causing those problems.
So, for instance, someone who is afraid of heights might actually be exacerbating their condition by thinking negative things about heights. They might think things like ‘imagine if I fall’ or ‘what if I trip?’
Simply thinking those things makes them imagine that they are falling or about to fall, which triggers the fight or flight response that causes them to freeze up.
A therapist will then ask them to use mindfulness in order to listen to the thoughts that are linked with their phobia and to simply be more aware of the way that their own mind and emotions work.
This in turn will allow them to make appropriate changes to their self-talk: to tell themselves things like ‘I don’t normally fall, so why would I now?’
They can also change their focus – to focus on things like their breathing to distract themselves away from harrowing visions of plummeting downward. Or they might simply ‘prove themselves wrong’ by gradually exposing themselves to heights (hypothesis testing).
The same goes for social phobia, for many forms of depression and even eating.
So how do we apply this mindfulness to our diet and our eating?
Let’s take a look at 8 powerful tips to practice mindful eating.
1. Look for Eating Triggers
One of the easiest ways to use mindfulness to improve your diet is to try using it to reduce your propensity for snacking or overeating – if these are indeed problems that you struggle with.
If you struggle with weight gain because you can’t stick to a diet, or you make bad choices, then the question to ask is why that might be.
Very often, there are psychological reasons for us eating more than we know we should. For instance, you might snack on sugary things because you are actually very stressed (stress eating) or very tired. When we eat sugary foods, this releases serotonin to counteract cortisol and other stress hormones.
In other words, we can eat as a way to self-medicate for low spirits.
So the next time you find yourself feeling low, tired or stressed, be ready – and think of other ways you can deal with that trigger. For instance, you might change your environment, take a ten minute break from work or do something else that you enjoy like having a cup of tea or a healthier snack.
Often we eat simply out of boredom. Find what causes you to eat when you know you shouldn’t and find better ways to deal with those emotions.
2. Change Your Focus
I used to have a bad habit of overeating when I was out with friends. Part of the reason for this is simply that the portion sizes at restaurants were always more than I needed. I’d always enjoy my main, then order a dessert and invariably feel sick afterward.
To avoid this, I eventually made a conscious effort to remember what that sensation of eating dessert made me feel. Each time I’d go to order a dessert, I’d think forward to the painful stomach, the guilt and the overly-sweet taste. Instead, I would order a coffee. Now I never have that problem in restaurants.
You can use the same mindful eating tactic by focussing on how bad it makes you feel to break your diet, how guilty you’ll be afterward… and how positive it feels when you are strict with yourself. Likewise, think ahead to the reward you’ll give yourself if you eat well.
3. Consider the Environment
In addition to emotional triggers for eating, environmental triggers can also be serious culprits.
In fact, psychologists advise that changing environments is one of the best ways to combat any bad habit.
You may find that you often snack when you’re in front of the TV for instance. So, what do you do? Simple: watch less TV!
If you work from home, then consider whether working out of coffee shops might be a useful way to reduce your snacking opportunities.
4. Eat More Slowly
One of the best ways to be more mindful of your eating is to simply slow down. Chew your food more and make an effort to pause between mouthfuls.
How many times should you chew your food? The general rule of thumb is 5-10 chews for softer foods and up to 30 times for more dense foods like protein and vegetables.
You can even set yourself the challenge to chew each forkful X number of times, or to eat more slowly than your partner.
This simply decision to be more conscious of how you eat will release more leptin – the satiety hormone – which will signal to the body that you are fuller.
Very often, we eat so quickly that our body and brain doesn’t have a chance to register how much we’ve eaten and this is why we end up stuffing ourselves with too much food.
5. Think About Your Food Choices
This one may sound obvious, but one of the simplest ways to be more mindful of your eating is to think more carefully about what you’re putting into your body. Too many of us simply:
- Eat what we’ve always eaten
- Eat whatever’s easily available
- Eat what we can afford
Instead of buying convenient, packaged, ready-made-meals, take the time to ask what is actually going into them.
Do the same too in restaurants – ask what ingredients went into the meals. That way, you can make more reasoned, conscious choices about what you want to eat and what you’d be better off skipping!
A very easy way to be more mindful of your food is to cook it yourself! This way, you know exactly what is going into your cooking and you’ll also be able to make a more educated guess about what goes into the other meals that you eat!
Likewise, cooking turns eating into more of an experience and an event, rather than something you do just for fuel. You’ll appreciate the food more as a result and be more respectful of it too.
7. Keep a Diary
Keeping a food diary of what you eat and how you feel is a fantastic way to encourage yourself to be more mindful.
When you write down your feelings, what you’ve eaten and how the two things might be related, it will encourage you to connect the two more often without needing prompting.
Likewise, you may find interesting correlations that point to poor tolerance of certain foods, or foods that keep you filled up versus those that don’t. Could a bigger breakfast help?
8. Think About Other Factors
It is a mistake to consider any aspect of your health in isolation. You’ve hopefully seen here already how psychology and environment can greatly impact on your diet and even on your weight gain.
But likewise, so too can many other factors.
For instance, your energy levels can have a big impact on your hunger and the way your body absorbs sugar and food. If you don’t get enough sleep or exercise, then you might find you crave more sugary foods and struggle to lose weight.
Make more changes to your life and your routine then by being more active, by considering what time you are eating and what time you are going to bed and waking up.
Think about the medications that you might be taking, and whether things like alcohol or smoking could be playing a role.
It might even be that you are suffering from a condition such as hypothyroidism or prediabetes. So, take the time to think about your health in a broad context and if you do suspect that something may be wrong – speak with your physician and let them know how you’ve been feeling.
Mindful eating can be a powerful tool for improving your physical and mental health. But it takes time and discipline to make it routine. Don’t look at mindful eating as a “fad diet” or something that will magically help you lose 50 pounds. Instead, make the mindful eating tips we’ve gone over a part of the way you eat for the rest of your life.