Food for Thought: Mindful Eating
Dean Dietitian Cindy Stenavich explains why it’s important to think about more than what you eat when it comes to healthier habits
When it comes to "New Year, New You" resolutions, healthier eating is generally at the top of the list. If you and your family are committing to better eating habits, one thing to think about is how you eat, not just what you eat.
Mindful eating is the practice of deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the food you eat. In our busy lives, we often do not pay attention to our eating. We eat on the run, in cars, in front of computers or TV’s and while working at our desks. It’s not just for adults, either. By helping your children be mindful of what and how they are eating, you can help them build a healthy relationship with the food they consume.
We eat quickly, sometimes barely tasting the food. We grab food when we have time or because it is there, not considering whether or not we are really hungry. All of this distracted eating can lead to overeating since we are out of touch with the type and amount of food we really need to be healthy.
With mindful eating, you begin to consider both your internal and external cues for eating. That means, starting to notice what triggers your eating. What is going on inside that increases your desire to eat? Is it hunger, or is it a response to a thought or feeling? What thoughts or feelings increase that desire? Also, consider what food around you triggers your eating. Is it access to the candy dish on your co-workers desk? The treats in the break room? The chips and dip you have after work while you’re making supper?
The important thing about mindful eating is that you begin by noticing without judgment. The more you can see each choice with objective clarity and begin to understand it, the better your position to choose differently. You begin to cultivate the possibility of freeing yourself from reactive or habitual patterns of eating. By practicing mindful eating as a family, you can help your children develop a healthy relationship with the foods they eat.
To develop mindful eating, select one meal or snack that you are going to eat in a very slow, attentive, deliberate way. Pick a time when you will not be rushed. Choose a food or meal that is pleasing to you. Put it on a plate. Sit at the table as a family, without distractions. Breathe deeply, relax, and really observe the food. Use all of your senses to notice the colors, shapes, textures and aromas of the food.
Acknowledge any responses – positive, negative, neutral. Then, very slowly begin to eat the food. Notice the flavors and textures in your mouth. Notice how it feels in your throat and stomach. How does your body respond to the food? Continue to very slowly and deliberately consider each bite of the food. Talk with each other about how you each are experiencing the foods you are eating.
Completely finish experiencing one bite, before you take the next one. If you lose your focus or start to rush, put down your utensil, do some deep breathing and start again. As you eat, continue to assess your feelings of remaining hunger or satiety.
When you feel that you have had enough to eat, stop eating, even if there is some food left on the plate. Reflect on how it felt to eat this way. What was positive, negative, neutral? Try to learn as much as you can about yourself and your eating. It's important to note that leaving some food unfinished is healthy. Teaching your children to listen to their hunger cues instead of "cleaning their plates" will help them maintain healthy eating habits and a health weight throughout their lives.
Continue to expand the number of mindful meals and snacks you have during a week until most of your eating is done in a mindful way. Avoid judging yourself if you slip into distracted eating. Just notice what happened, and look for ways to set up your environment to support mindfulness more often.
As you become more skilled at mindful eating, you will find that this style of eating promotes balance and attention to your body’s inner wisdom. You will learn that there is no right or wrong way to eat, just varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food. You become attuned to the immediate experience of food and begin to choose foods that nourish and nurture your body – because you notice your body feels better. You increase your awareness of all of the choices you make related to food and eating and accept responsibility for those choices.
Very often the skill of mindful eating leads to a healthier or thinner body. Even so, when practicing mindful eating, maintain your focus on yourself and the food in the moment without worrying about a particular outcome. Relax and enjoy the experience.
If you feel you could use some assistance with developing a healthy eating plan, the Registered Dietitians in the Dean Clinic system are available to help.
Contact the Nutrition Services department for more information.