Think back for a moment to the last meal you had.
Was it something you hastily chewed in front of your computer on a “lunch break,” or at stoplight breaks on your morning commute? A dinner you distractedly devoured on the couch while watching TV?
Or, was it a meal you truly took the time to savor with all five of your senses?
Distracted or “mindless” eating is an easy habit to fall into. After all, we’re all busy.
But, it’s a habit that can make it harder to have a healthy relationship with food.
What Does Mindless Eating Look Like?
Mindless eating can look like:
- Eating while “multi-tasking”
- Eating at random times or eating just because the food is there in front of you
- Eating when you’re not hungry, or continuing to eat even after you feel full
- Eating out of boredom, sadness or anxiety
Anxiety especially can push us toward emotional eating. Think about some common symptoms of anxiety—a gnawing sensation in your stomach, feelings of weakness or dizziness, irritability or trouble concentrating—and you’ll see they are very similar to the “symptoms” of hunger.
The Drawbacks of Distracted Eating
When we eat mindlessly on a regular basis, we may learn to ignore our bodies’ signals, and we may frequently regret the food choices that we make.
We also miss out on an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness in our daily lives.
What Does Mindful Eating Look Like?
Mindful eating means:
- Listening to your body—eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full
- Making conscious decisions about the food you put into your body: where it comes from, how you prepare it, what it has to offer your health
- Focusing on your food when you eat, instead of multitasking or zoning out
- Consciously choosing when to indulge in a treat, and then enjoying it without feeling guilty
- Treating a meal like an experience, not a means to an end
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
When we eat mindfully, we are less likely to overeat, less likely to “eat our emotions” and more likely to feel good about the food choices we’ve made.
Not only that, we can use our meals as an actual mindfulness practice!
Exploring Mindfulness Through Eating
Before we delve into eating as a mindfulness practice, let’s take a moment to talk about what mindfulness means.
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and sensations in the moment, without—and this is the crucial part—attaching any judgment to them.
This helps us to mentally step back from the constant distractions in our lives, (both the external and the internal ones), and to live more fully in the present.
Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to help decrease stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness practice does not have to be any kind of lengthy, formal-style meditation. Taking just a few minutes each day to practice staying present can make a significant and very positive impact.
That’s why food makes an excellent focus for mindfulness practice—because it engages all of our senses, and because it’s already a part of our daily lives!
In fact, a simple eating exercise with a raisin is commonly used as an introduction to mindfulness in classes or workshops.
See more about mindful eating in the video below and then give it a try at home!
Other Ways to Add Mindfulness to Your Meals
You can also cultivate more mindful eating by bringing these simple, mindful habits to your kitchen and table:
- Connect with where your food comes from. Pick up food at your local farmer’s market, take a family trip to a “you pick” fruit farm, plant herbs or bake fresh bread at home.
- Use all five senses while cooking and eating. Pay attention to colors, aromas, textures, temperatures and even sounds.
- Set a table nicely and sit down to eat—no eating out of the container!—even when you are eating alone.
- Express gratitude for your food. Take a moment to appreciate it, and anyone who helped you prepare it (or prepared it for you!) before you begin eating.
- Start with a small portion (using a smaller plate can help). Take small bites. Listen to your body and let it tell you when you are full.
- Chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Try chewing each mouthful at least twenty times. You might be surprised how much more quickly you feel full!
As you practice bringing more mindfulness to your meals, your relationship with food will become healthier and more enjoyable—a good thing for your physical and your mental health!
Angela Charlton, R.D.-N., leads our Community Health and Outreach nutrition team and is a regular contributor to Carilion Living. Join her online for Wellness Wednesdays, a series of free, 30-minute webinars on eating well during uncertain times.
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