Leave the food culture behind and practice mindful eating instead (2023)

Many of you know this routine all too well: you come home late from work, hungry and tired, and you whip up a quick dinner and wolf it down before you even had time to decide on oneNetflix-ShowThey wanted to watch the food. While this practice is understandable, believe it or not, it's not the healthiest thing to add to your diet.

It is important to eat mindfully: the practice of staying present while eating, feeling all the sensations of eating and noticing when you start to feel full. While mindful eating may ring a bell due to its growing popularity in the wellness industry and social media, it's actually an age-old practice that can overall make us feel better about our eating habits.

I spoke to two expertsKristen Bunich, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner ofThe intuitive nutritionistbased in Charlotte, North Carolina, andDavid Gaviria, a graduate student in the Department of Nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill, to learn more about the art of staying present while eating and how to practice mindful eating every day.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating uses many of the key tenets of mindfulness, including full presence and thinking deeply about our behavior and feelings. Mindfulness is a concept based on Zen Buddhism and was first defined byJon Kabat-Zinn, Professor and Director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mindfulness is about learning to manage life's stresses and improving your mental and physical health.

Bunich said that mindful eating is specifically the act of developing an awareness of the experience of eating. It's about becoming aware of your senses and feelings around food, as well as physical sensations and how your body reacts - all without judgement. It's a way to change eating habits and relationships with food.

Mindful eating is more than just eating when you're hungry and not eating when you're full. And the sensory experience goes beyond just thinking about taste. Mindful eating can include how the food looks on your plate, how it smells, the texture, how crisp or soft it is, and how you feel while eating.

Also read:What is body neutrality and how can I start practicing it?

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What are the benefits of mindful eating?

Distracted eating is now the norm. It's common for people to eat lunch at their desk, snack while surfing social media, or finish their dinner while watching TV. Bunich points out that we live in a world where many pride ourselves on being busy and multitasking, but when we lose focus on our food, we can lose satisfaction with food and theHunger-Saturation Connection.

"There are many benefits to being a more mindful eater," Bunich said. “A slower pace of eating makes digestion and bloating easier. The slower pace also helps reconnect with feelings of fullness. If you have previously eaten too much, it can help prevent weight gain or even weight loss. But the biggest benefit may be a newfound satisfaction in eating and increased enjoyment of your meals."

Gaviria said mindful eating is a great practice that he recommends to many people, as long as people are careful not to add aspects offood culture. It's a way of appreciating food and your body's response to it, rather than being a weight loss method.

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How to practice mindful eating?

It's easy to get busy and neglect meals, but there are steps you can take to rebalance your relationship with food. Bunich explained that mindful eating begins before you prepare your plate. Before you start eating, pause and think, “Why am I eating? Am I hungry, bored, stressed, or emotional right now?” and go from there.

Gaviria walked me through what he does with his clients to practice more mindful eating.

"I'm telling them to go to a place with no distractions, so put away your phone, turn off the TV, turn off the radio and just sit," Gaviria said. “Close your eyes, be present and notice how you are feeling. (This method originally started with raisins, but can be used on any food.)

The first thing you should do is look at the food on the table and really appreciate how it looks. Keep the colors in mind if it has any textures. Is it straight, curved, curved? After spending time thinking about the food, pick it up. Notice if it's rough, smooth, sticky, greasy, or something else. After doing that, you can even start gently squeezing the food with your hands. Then smell it. Hold it up to your nose and take your time to define all the different notes hitting your nose with each breath.

Finally, take a bite of it and start asking yourself questions to really observe the taste of the food: Does it taste different after doing these exercises? Do you like it or not? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it a texture you like? Does it spread in your mouth or stick to a certain area? How does it taste initially and how does it change over time? Are there sounds you hear when chewing? And how did that make you feel?

This routine touches every sensory aspect of eating, making it a great way to eat more mindfully. Gaviria said people probably won't use this routine every day, with every meal, or with every bite, but it's a good place to start for a deeper introduction.

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More examples of mindful eating

Experts share some effective steps to be more mindful that you can use at every meal:

  • Make a detailed shopping list before you go to the store.
  • Do not watch TV or use social media while eating.
  • Don't eat at your desk while you work.
  • Set aside certain times of the day just for cooking and eating.
  • Sit at a table instead of eating on the couch or eating standing up.
  • Start with a manageable portion on your plate and add more as needed.
  • Eat when you're hungry, but don't wait until you're starved to eat (and don't skip meals).
  • Eat slowly and make note of the different flavors you taste in each bite.
  • Use all your senses and look at the color, smell, taste, and texture of the food.
  • Take smaller bites.
  • Chew each bite completely before swallowing (experts recommend chewing 20 to 40 times per bite).
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How is mindful eating different from intuitive eating?

While some use these terms interchangeably, there are some key differences between mindful eating andintuitive eating. "Mindfulness really depends on the sensory experience of eating," Gaviria said, "while intuitive eating encompasses a broader framework of eating where you notice your hunger signs before you go to a meal." They take into account the factors of your day related to how much you're going to eat and so on." He added, "Intuitive eating also talks about respecting your body and recognizing how you feel about your body and appreciating it regardless , how he looks."

Gaviria emphasizes that context is really important when it comes to intuitive eating. An example would be a situation where a mother eats a light dinner before her child's soccer game, even though she is not really hungry at the moment. She knows she will be away from home and won't be able to eat for several hours so she doesn't overeat later. It could also be an athlete who eats before or after a workout to boost physical activity or to recover. It goes beyond the sensory element of mindfulness and considers your entire day and how it affects eating habits.

The final result

Centering yourself is always important to breaking through the chaos of everyday life, and mindful eating can help with that. Being distracted during mealtimes can lead to both overeating and undereating, so it's important to take care and make sure we're fueling our bodies in a way that makes us feel good.

Mindful eating isn't about losing weight or eating less, it's about refocusing our experience of eating, or as Bunich said, "It's a great tool in the toolbox for relating to food and... to heal."

More for your diet

  • 13 best foods for kidney health
  • 12 best foods for brain health
  • Try these foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart
  • Stop Getting Hungry: How to Optimize Your Diet for Balanced Blood Sugar
  • Boost your collagen naturally (and cheaply) with these collagen-rich foods

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

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