How to Eat More Mindfully

Have you ever reached into a bag of potato chips only to realize there’s nothing left and thought “how did that happen?” Or perhaps you’ve eaten lunch at your desk and without realizing it, you’ve finished your entire sandwich, barely having tasted a bite? This phenomenon, known as mindless (or distracted) eating, is quite common in the fast-paced world we live in where multitasking is the norm. But habitually eating while distracted can lead to eating more than you need and feeling less satisfied which can result in unnecessary snacking post-meal!

Mindful eating is a technique that helps increase satisfaction with eating and increase awareness of how much your body actually needs to eat to be full. It’s associated with eating less overall and eating fewer sweets! Mindful eating is about slowing down and being fully present while eating so that you can experience all that your food has to offer — from smell to texture and taste. Mindful eating takes practice and intention, and may feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re used to eating on-the-go or while doing other things. To get started, try these tips.

  1. Put away the devices! That means turn off the TV, put away your phone, and walk away from your computer while eating. Technology is one of the biggest reasons we don’t fully experience our meals and snacks. If this feels impossible, start with just two to three minutes. Set a timer (then turn your phone over!) and just eat.
  2. Slow down. Eating more slowly has been linked to increased meal satisfaction, reduced calorie intake (at both the meal and future eating occasions), and even suppression of ghrelin (the hunger hormone). Not only do you have a better chance of fully tasting and experiencing your food, but eating more slowly allows your brain time to receive signals from your stomach that you’ve had enough to eat. If you tend to be a fast eater, try putting down your fork between bites or even — as an experiment — eating with your non-dominant hand for part of the meal.
  3. Use all senses when you eat. Start by looking at the food (again, not at your screen). Then as you begin to eat, notice how the food smells, how it feels in your mouth, and how it sounds (is it crunchy and loud?) as you eat.
  4. Check in with yourself throughout the meal. Rather than letting how much food you put on your plate (or were served at a restaurant) dictate the amount you eat, tune in regularly to notice if you’re starting to feel full. Pay attention to how the food tastes as well. Often as we start to get full, food doesn’t taste quite as good as it did at the beginning of the meal. Even if you’re still enjoying it, notice your level of satisfaction with each bite and whether it’s starting to dwindle compared to the first or second bite.
  5. Create a relaxing environment. Ok, we realize this one isn’t always possible, especially if you have little kids at the table or you can’t completely control your environment. But do what you can and take a few deep breaths before you dig in to help you slow down, connect with your body, and enjoy the food. When you’re tense, you’re more likely to eat quickly, or let your mind wander away from the food.

This may feel like a completely foreign way to eat, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Start with just one or two meals per week to practice a few of these tips and then slowly increase your mindful eating practice over time. Every little bit helps.

Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian and the owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, a virtual private practice and nutrition communications consulting business in the suburbs of Boston. She empowers busy moms to learn to eat to feel their best without the stress.

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