Standup comedian Louis CK once said on his show, “The meal isn't over when I'm full. It's over when I hate myself.” This line is a perfect representation of our eating habits. Some eat to live; others live to eat.
However, food is more than just an energy source, as it was taught to us back in school. Food is an outlet for indulgence and tends to dictate the mood of the day. A healthy meal can make you feel great but an unhealthy meal, not so much.
So, how can we make our meals enjoyable without it denting our physical and mental wellbeing? The answer: mindful eating. Here is what you need to know about it.
What is Mindful Eating?
Based on the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion research, the general person today consumes 600 more calories a day than they did in 1970. This change might occur due to the availability of food, the variety, the culture, or the increased work-dependent culture.
Mindfulness is not an elaborate technique that forces you to plan meals like an athlete. It’s merely simple awareness of the food you consume. It’s a meditative process of scrutiny and acceptance that helps you plan your meals better.
But Why Eat Mindfully?
The internet is infamous for romanticizing the idea of mindfulness. However, there are apparent advantages to this change. Here are a few:
- You enjoy your food better.
- Build a culture of eating when you are hungry and avoid over-consumption.
- An end to binge-eating.
- Better health. Especially helpful for those battling cardiovascular or diabetic ailments.
- It helps you regulate your blood sugar levels.
- Keep weight gain and loss in check.
- It enables you to try and enjoy a wider variety of foods.
- Reduces stress.
Tried-And-True Mindful Eating Rituals
So, how does one remain mindful with meals? Here are some guidelines, tips, and recommendations for you to consider.
Stomach Half Full, Or Half Empty.
It’s not your fault. Science is proof that your brain detects saturation points as late as 15-20 minutes after your body. This delayed response causes you to overeat an enjoyable meal until your brain tries to hit the brakes.
There are two ways to deal with this problem. Start by eating slowly. Let your brain and body process your meal. Take the time to chew your food enough and enjoy every morsel you put into your mouth. Set your cutlery down occasionally; it helps.
Second, create a mental reference of how much you eat during each meal. Take small servings and stop early. You will understand how much your body consumes after a few attempts.
What Does Hunger Mean To You?
Have you ever found yourself getting up from your couch and taking a stroll to the fridge? You open the door and look for treats; you are unsure if you really want to eat or are just bored.
Next time you find yourself doing this, drink a tall glass of water. If you still find yourself reaching for food, that would mean you are hungry. It’s easy to get confused with the hunger signals that your brain sends you. Do not eat when you experience emotional cues. These signs vary among people. For some, they might experience sadness, irritation, loneliness, or even boredom. Don’t eat for your mind, but your body. Is your stomach grumbling? Do you feel low energy levels? Use physical attributes as much as possible.
Some people also discover a lack of concentration when hungry. While this is an emotional cue, it’s about how your body feels before a meal. Take a second now and think about what your signals are.
Make It Part Of The Plan
While this might seem difficult to many people, try to make meals a ritual. If you work at an office, create a culture of eating together with friends and colleagues. Those working from home can do the same with a member of the family.
This practice helps in two ways. Firstly, it pushes a group to stick to a meal schedule and eat on time, every time. Secondly, it helps create a habit of healthy eating. Habit formation takes time and repetition.
While dining on time each day is a habit, so is not eating on time each day. Remain mindful of the meal times. Add them to your calendar if that helps. Create a dedicated place, routine, or ritual around your meals. For example, consider eating lunch at the dining table with family.
Try eating around the same time window every day for a few weeks. You will notice your body automatically providing cues when it’s time.
Create A Mindful Kitchen
When hungry, we reach for what is around us. The brain lacks patience (and the stomach, too!). If you see a bag of chips around you when you are hungry -- you will devour that packet of fried snacks. If you are on the path to mindfulness, create the space and conviction to hold that thought and not act on it.
A report by Kansas State University claims, “Only 21 percent of adults consume the recommended amounts of fruits a day.” How do we increase that? By keeping fruits handy. Imagine walking into the kitchen starving; all you see is healthy fruits and nuts. You will inevitably reach for the more nutritious option.
Additionally, having a stocked and clear kitchen will encourage you to spend more time and consider better alternatives. If you are attempting to cut back on sugar, do not bring desserts into the house. Here is another interesting observation about mindful kitchens -- do not shop when you’re hungry.
This characteristic is a physiological trigger called “moral licensing.” To give you an example, if you notice a cop watching you, you tend to behave more cautiously than usual. You might not be committing a crime, but your brain triggers a response. In the same way, a hungry mind will reach for things at the store you do not require.
“Look at me!” - Your Plate.
Ever wonder why an extra-large tub of movie-time popcorn can vanish before the halfway mark of the film? It’s because your eyes are glued to the screen. In contrast, your hand makes the circuit between your mouth and the tub. This scene is a perfect example of mindless eating.
Eating your food in front of the television or your phone screen has become the norm of today. Streaming a show or scrolling through the endless pages of social media -- they are all distractions from your meal.
The next time you sit for a meal, grab an outdoor table and enjoy your meal to the sounds of nature. Look at your food and notice what you eat. It’s also the reason why plates at a Michelin Star restaurant come decorated and attractive. Eating is about indulging all of your five senses.
What Is The Goal?
If you are considering the path of mindful eating, what is it that you want to get out of this practice?
A goal in your mind can change it all. Are you looking to lose weight? Build a healthier lifestyle? Find joy in food? Or simply looking to improve your habits? Whatever be the reason, tell yourself why you are doing this.
We all love to dive into a gallon-large tub of ice cream. But if your goal is to cut back on sugar, you will find yourself averse to such an indulgence. These benchmarks are critical if your eating habits are deteriorating your health.
Don’t be hard on yourself!
Set a test period. Inculcate these changes at a slow pace and monitor your progress. You do not need to become the epitome of mindful eating from the get-go. Start with actionable changes and make sturdy progress.