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SALT LAKE CITY — What if you were told there was a way to enjoy food more, recognize easily when it's time to start and stop eating, improve overall health and eat less? Does it sound like a gimmicky fad diet or maybe a pill you'd like to try?
It's not either of those and it's not as easy as taking a pill; it's a mindset and a practice called mindfulness. It's not a diet and has been shown to be an effective intervention for obesity-related issues, binge eating and emotional eating.
You've probably heard about it before and you may even be practicing it in your life currently. Let's talk about mindfulness and its power to improve our quality of life as it relates to health and nutrition.
Mindfulness is awareness and attention of ourselves and our surroundings without judgement or criticism; it's a practice of being present in the current moment. Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist teaching and has been gaining popularity in the Western world in the last few years.
It's important to note that mindfulness is a practice. This means you will likely have to put a lot of effort into making mindfulness a part of your routine ㄧ you won't wake up tomorrow being perfect at mindful meals. You will have meals where you are very mindful and aware and others where you completely forget to pay attention to the experience. That's OK, that why you're practicing this, not perfecting this.
How to make mindfulness a part of your daily eating routine
1. Ditch the distractions. Eat your meals and snacks at a table and avoid turning the TV on, browsing Facebook on your phone, reading a book or doing anything that distracts your brain from the eating experience. Try to avoid eating in your car or on the go ㄧ allow the eating experience to stand on its own without distractions.
2. Pause before you eat and take an inventory of hunger levels. Take a moment before you put the first bite of food in your mouth to recognize what you're feeling. Are you slightly hungry, reasonably hungry or desperately hungry? Recognizing where you are with hunger helps you to decide how much to eat and to be aware of potential triggers to overeat, i.e. feeling way too starving and overeating because you lose control.
3. Opt for foods that are enjoyable and tasty to you. When you are being mindful with your eating, you try to appreciate and pay attention to your various sensations while eating. Doing this is easier with flavorful, delicious foods you truly enjoy. And don't forget: Nutritious food can be tasty, too.
4. Use your senses: Recognize and acknowledge the sight, smell, sound, taste and mouthfeel of the food you're enjoying. Sometimes we forget that the eating experience can and should involve all of our senses. Take a few extra minutes to plate your food in a way that looks appetizing, add some green to liven up the look of your plate or vary the textures on your plate so you can have the chance to take it all in.
5. Pause halfway through the meal and ask yourself if you still need more or if you're almost satisfied. Part of mindful eating includes paying attention to your fullness signals during the meal. This helps you be in tune with the right time to stop eating.
6. Eat slowly. Mindful eating is much easier when we eat slower. Take your time, drink water, have meaningful conversations during the meal and try to slow down. It's easier to tune in to hunger/fullness and your senses when you aren't shoveling food as fast as you can in your mouth.
Now that we've talked about why mindfulness is effective and how to start implementing it into your life, here's an exercise to try it out.
Mindfulness eating exercise
Choose a very small food, such as a chocolate covered almond, a raisin, a chunk of cheese or a chewy candy. Put it in the palm of your hand and turn it over a few times noticing the sight of it. Is it symmetrical? Does it have ridges or rough edges? Are you noticing a slight hunger in your stomach? Can you notice a smell? What is your mouth doing as you look at this food? Are you salivating?
Next, put the small piece of food into your mouth. Notice the familiarity you experience. Your tongue likely automatically puts this food in a certain part of your mouth. Recognize any sensations of wanting to chew the food. Let the food just sit in your mouth for a moment and then start chewing it. Notice your salivary glands and what's happening in your mouth as you start chewing. Chew slowly and tune into the experience. Do you like the food? Does it bring back a memory? Is the texture enjoyable?
Swallow the food with intention and notice how familiar that process is and reflect on the experience. Did you enjoy the food? Was eating that food in that particular way more or less satisfying than usual? Do you feel hungry or full?
Being more mindful during the eating experience can help you in so many ways. Emotional eating, bingeing and overeating become next to impossible when eating mindfully. Enjoy your food, pay attention to the experience and stop when your body is communicating fullness. It's a powerful way to take back your physical and mental health.
Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in helping people heal their relationship with food. She is the mom to two lovely little girls and the wife to one amazing husband. Paige believes the mental side of food and nutrition is just as important as the physical side. She is the host of Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City, UT. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram for recipes and more food for thought.