As we head into the Holiday and Winter Season, eating mindfully can help you stay on track of your nutrition goals.
Mindful eating is the act of paying close attention and being aware of your eating experience without judgment or criticism. While the concept sounds simple, it actually can be tricky to master, since it requires you to trust your natural instincts and be in touch with your body’s cues. In this fast-paced world, many of us are extremely out of touch with what is going on in our bodies. Try working on your mind-body connection at mealtimes with the 5 tips below:
#1: Take a deep breath
Next time you are feeling stressed, draw your attention to whether you are breathing or not. We have a tendency to hold our breath due to muscle tension in times of stress. Mealtimes should be enjoyable; a time where you can escape and take a few minutes to yourself to revel in a nourishing meal. Taking a deep breath can help relax your whole body, including the digestive system.
#2: Check in with your hunger
Think of a hunger scale labeled 1-10, where 1 is ravenously hungry and 10 is you unbutton the pants full. Neither of these situations is ideal for metabolic or digestive health. Rate your hunger after you take a deep breath before your meal or snack. Ideally, you will keep your hunger between a 3-7 on this scale. If you are finding yourself frequently at a 1 before meals, ask yourself what you can do differently. Some possible solutions would be planning ahead of time for meals so you have something to eat when you are hungry at a 5. If you are eating when you’re at a 7-10 then consider waiting to eat until you belly sends you hunger signals. Avoid snacking whenever possible.
Check-in with your hunger multiple times during your meal as well. We have a tendency to have the mentality that we need to finish everything on our plate, but that is not ideal for our health, especially if we aren’t truly hungry. If you struggle with the idea of leaving food on your plate, start with just leaving 1-2 small bites on the plate and work from there. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
#3: Assess your plate
Take a minute to look down at your plate before eating. Does your food look nutritious and visibly appealing? In what ways is this food going to nourish your physical and mental health? Is this plate going to get you closer to your health goals or further away? Make changes to what you eat for your meals based on your answers to these types of questions.
Every bite you take is either fighting or feeding a disease.
Perhaps you need to start packing more bright-colored vegetables and less simple carbohydrates like bread, potatoes, and rice. Perhaps you need to add in more protein and fat to help with satiety. An afternoon slump is rarely a reason to eat. Take a 10-15 minute rest, power nap, or meditation and you’ll be surprised how refreshed you are! The more you listen to your body, the better you will be able to give it what it needs to thrive.
#4: Slow down and chew your food
Raise your hand if you are a fast eater? Many of us are, and this stems from the “go-go-go” times we are living in. Digestion actually starts in the mouth with the secretion of salivary enzymes. Chewing your food well will help you secrete adequate enzymes and get the digestive process started on the right note. Chewing adequately also automatically helps you slow down. I’m not saying you need to follow a hard and fast rule of chewing 20 times per bite but do pay attention next time you eat and see how many times you are actually chewing before swallowing. And! Put your fork or food down while chewing. Avoid having your next bite of food ready to shovel in your mouth before you’ve completely chewed and swallowed the food that currently in your mouth.
#5: Get away from your desk (or the television)
It makes for a long day at work if you eat lunch at the same desk you are working at all day. If possible, go eat in the break room or outside. Getting some fresh air can help boost your mood and likely your afternoon productivity. Going for a walk after you eat can also help with blood sugar balance.
When at home, try not to eat in front of the television. It is easy to get distracted and not be in tune with your hunger when eating in front of the television. If you have a family, eating together at the table is a great time to hear about each other’s day and enjoy a nourishing meal with good company.
Please know that these tips take a lot of practice and you can’t expect to master them overnight. Even people who have been practicing intuitive and mindful eating for years are still lifetime learners.
While we know that life gets busy and it’s not always possible to take a non-working or kid-free lunch and practice all of these tips, taking a deep breath and checking in with your hunger and how you are feeling can still help. Putting your fork down between bites can remind you to slow down and enjoy your food. For all of the busy parents of young children out there, eating a peaceful meal in silence might not be an option right now, but taking a deep breath can help calm you down amongst the chaos.