When we talk about mindfulness, we relate it to being in the present and being more aware of yourself and your surroundings. For some, a proper journey towards mindfulness might mean meditating on a regular basis. Meanwhile for others, it’s about creating daily habits that keeps you grounded, such as journaling or exercising.
Mindfulness, in general, is about being self-conscious. This can be applied in every aspect of your life–even as you take your daily meals. Mindful eating is a great way to not only keep your body healthy, but also to keep your mind alert and your energy high.
In this article, we’ll discuss mindful eating and how it can help improve your life and your relationship with food:
What is mindful eating?
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health defines mindful eating as an activity that zeroes in on what you eat, how you eat, how your body reacts when you eat, and your general feelings about food and, well, eating it. Engaging in a mindful eating exercise doesn’t mean that you need to feel guilty about your supposedly not-so-healthy food choices: it’s simply about taking them as they are, and finding ways to tweak your habits in order to maximize your energy intake and make your experience of eating all the more enjoyable.
Mindful eating traces its roots back to Buddhist teachings, specifically the act of being “in the now.” According to a feature in The New York Times, it’s not a fad diet or anything related to shying away from certain food types. Mindful eating is about being in the present and relishing what’s on your plate. It’s about being conscious about how your food is presented, how it tastes and feels in your mouth, and how your body reacts to it.
Pediatrician, author, and meditation teacher Dr. Jan Chozen Bays tells The Times, “This is anti-diet. I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.” When this happens, you engage in “mindless” or “distracted eating." The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that distracted eating is associated with “anxiety, overeating, and weight gain.” There are people who stress-eat to take their mind off issues and to calm their nerves. Some use food as an outlet for their negative emotions. Others simply treat meals as a necessary evil due to their busy lives, and have them whenever or wherever they can manage–during commute or in the middle of a hectic work shift.
When your schedule is full, you tend to eat as you go. It gets tricky measuring how much you take in.
The effects of distracted eating and why you should quit it
Squeezing in very little time to eat or eating while doing something else not only diminishes the joy of a meal, but also exacerbates health issues. According to an article by Harvard Health Publishing Chief Medical Editor Howard E. LeWine, MD, distracted eating can cause you to overeat simply because you’re not paying attention. When you’re not focused–and especially when you eat too fast– you tend to mismanage portions and you can’t immediately feel the heaviness of what you just consumed in your stomach. That’s why you might often think that you need to take in more. (Fun Fact: It actually takes your brain 20 minutes to process that you’re already full.)
Overeating can easily lead to you becoming overweight, as your body is burning less than the calories you take in. Healthlineexplains that overeating can “disrupt hunger regulation” and cause a hormonal imbalance, triggering your body to perpetually take in more than it should. The unnecessary weight and unburnt fat that you gain when overeating can lead to cardiovascular issues, and we’re sure you’d want to avoid those.
Mindful eating vs intuitive eating: What’s the difference?
Taking deliberate breaks to eat as well as the practice of being in the moment when you have your meals are good ways to help you overcome overeating. Mindful eating works hand-in-hand with intuitive eating, which, according to Verywell Fit, is a more focused approach to food. A program in the 1990s developed by dieticians Elyse Resch and Evelyne Tribole, it promotes judgment-free eating by listening to your body: When do you feel hungry? At what point do you feel satisfied? Are you really hungry or are you just being snacky? It also encourages you to be more aware of how your body reacts to food.
Intuitive eating is about making peace with food and not feeling guilty about consuming it. It can be easy to think that simply following your natural cues leads to overeating as it seems unregulated, but being truly focused on how your body reacts can actually push you to eat healthier meals. Your body will naturally gravitate towards what’s good for it, and when you keep an open mind about the healthy things you can eat, you’ll easily learn to enjoy new and adventurous tastes, or even see old textures you didn’t enjoy years back in a new light.
It’s good to know, however, that intuitive eating is not a weight-loss program. It’s a way to renew and respect your relationship with food. It strips away any guilt you might have about eating certain food types, and instead focuses on what your body tells you it needs. Food is food, and being in tune with your own body can make your experience with it a whole lot better.
What is your body telling you it needs? Vegetables? Vitamins? Something sweet?
Daily habits that can help you ease into mindful eating
Easing into mindful eating means actually making an effort to be conscious of what, where, when, and how you eat. Here are daily habits that can strengthen your practice:
The importance of mindful eating
Mindful eating isn’t just about eating slower and taking time to appreciate what’s on your plate. It’s also a matter of keeping yourself healthy. When you focus on your food and how it affects your body, it becomes easier for you to see food as something that nourishes, rather than as something to feel guilty about and see in a negative light. Mindful eating can also encourage you to try healthier alternatives. Do you have a hankering for potato chips? Why not try mushroom crisps instead? If your body is craving veggies (because it really happens once you start cleaning up your eating habits), go for interesting ingredients like dried shiitake mushrooms—just don’t eat shitake mushrooms wild and raw as this tends to cause allergic reactions!
As a concept, mindful and intuitive eating are pretty fundamental. They simply lead you back to what your body naturally does. You only need to follow cues, and make sure that these cues can help you achieve good eating habits.
Why be guilty about food? This is sustenance and it's good for you. Adapt the right attitude, practice mindful eating, and you'll see huge improvement.
So don’t feel guilty about taking time to thoroughly enjoy a good meal. As an example–while the Japanese food-focused movie “Tampopo” is generally made to be funny, there is some excellent insight to be taken away from the ramen master’s instructions on eating ramen properly: “First observe the whole bowl. Appreciate its gestalt, savor the aromas…” Pausing, observing, and being grateful about what you’re about to eat along with truly enjoying how it tastes can take you down the path of making healthier food choices. Learn to enjoy eating without the distractions or the rush. It’s not only good for your body, but for your soul, as well.
Feeling snacky? Eat in the right portions and enjoy healthy alternatives. Check out The Daily Good’s mushroom crisps for your feel of yummy, good-for-you nibbles.