Counting calories, watching portion sizes, exercising regularly and choosing lean-protein, high-fibre and low-fat options are common strategies when it comes to weight loss and maintenance; but have you heard about mindful eating?
This is a weight-loss strategy that’s often overlooked, but in my opinion it’s one of the most important.
Mindful eating means you’re “paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking…the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures and even the sounds of our food.” It also means paying attention to feelings of hunger and satiety and learning what hungry, half-full or three-quarters-full feels like for you (1).
Have you ever sat down to eat dinner, looked down at your plate 15 minutes later and realized you’ve finished your entire meal and you don’t even remember eating it?
This is called mindless eating. Eating like this means:
– You most likely overate because you weren’t paying attention to hunger and satiety cues. This can lead to weight gain.
– You ate too fast and didn’t properly digest your food. This means nutrients aren’t properly absorbed, undigested food sits in your intestines and toxins build up.
– You ate so fast you didn’t fully enjoy the meal that you spent an hour preparing and cooking. This can discourage you from cooking in the future.
On the other hand, mindful eating means:
– You get to know your personal hunger and satiety cues. This is one of the keys to weight loss and maintenance.
– You control food; it doesn’t control you. You will start to choose which foods you feel like eating based on your hunger level. For example you’ll start to ask yourself, “Do I feel like a small snack or am I ready for a meal?” Or, “I’m satisfied from dinner; do I really feel like dessert?” You can opt to save your dessert for the next night.
– You’ll learn when to stop eating. Many people were raised to finish all the food on their plates. I think this concept plays a major role in the obesity issues in our society today. When you eat mindfully you’ll learn to say, “There is still food left on my plate, but I’m satisfied; I’ll wrap up the rest for lunch tomorrow.”
– You can enjoy a variety of foods that are considered “off-limits” on many diets, such as carbs (whole grains of course!), fries (sweet potato fries are best) and dessert (all-natural sweeteners only!) without overdoing it. By allowing yourself these types of foods in moderation you won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself, and you’ll be less likely to binge later.
– You may start to identify triggers for mindless eating, such as emotions (boredom, anger, loneliness), social pressures (others go in for seconds) or certain foods (chips, candy) (2).
– You’ll start to appreciate the food that you’ve prepared because you’re paying attention to the taste, textures, combined flavors and smells. This attention will give you a new-found appreciation for food and cooking.
How do you start to eat mindfully?
I consider mindful eating a healthy habit. It takes 21 days to form a habit. For the next 21 days I want you to focus on mindful eating at every meal. Here are some tips to help you do this:
1. Sit at the table. Don’t eat in front of the TV or computer; this will distract you from paying attention to eating.
2. Do not multitask while eating. Don’t do your hair, clean the kitchen, or put on makeup while eating.
3. Describe the food you’re eating. For example, “I like the combination of sweet and savoury flavours in this dish”, or “I like the crunchiness of the sesame seeds in this salad” or “I love the colour of these beets.”
4. Put your cutlery down and sit back in your chair while you chew every bite. This will remind you to: focus on the taste of your food, chew properly (important for proper digestion) and slow down (this will help you realize when you’re full before overeating).
Mindful eating will change the way you approach food and eating for the better. You’ll take back control, start to appreciate food again, and focus on quality versus quantity. This will not only help with weight loss, maintenance and proper digestion, but it will also improve your relationship with food and eating. Good luck with your new healthy habit!