10554394_sIf I asked you what you ate for lunch yesterday, would you be able to tell me? What if I asked how the texture of the food felt in your mouth? Or what it smelled like? If these questions are difficult to answer, you may benefit from working on mindful eating. And don’t worry, you are not alone. Research has shown that snacking throughout the day, rather than participating in three full meals a day, is at an all time high and on the rise1. It is a common occurrence today for people to eat on the go, rush through meals, skip meals, and capitalize on sharing time eating with other activities like driving, talking on the phone, checking email, scanning social media, or watching TV. This is often called “mindless eating” and has been shown to be related to overeating, stress, and anxiety.2 Taking small steps toward being more present and aware of what you are doing while you eat, how the food tastes, smells, feels, and looks can greatly benefit your health.

Here are some ways to be more mindful while you eat:

  • Slow down!
    • Take the time to think about what you might enjoy eating before you grab the first thing you see.
    • Limit snacking. Eat 3 meals a day. Snacking more times in a day is related to eating more calories.1
  • Cook or prepare your own meals as often as possible
    • Many weight loss professionals will encourage making food from scratch. Although there are health benefits to more wholesome food, there is also some mindfulness that occurs when you know what went in to preparing the food you are about to eat. Think about it. If you had to start with a whole potato to cook French fries from scratch every time you ate them, do you think you would eat them as often?
  • Sit down at a table to eat
    • Having a consistent place where you enjoy meals helps contribute to the experience and prevents eating on the go.
  • Clear the surface where you plan to have your meal
    • Clutter can contribute to distractions and take away from your mindful eating efforts.
  • Minimize multitasking by putting your phone/computer away and turning the TV off
    • Paying attention while eating helps digestion and absorption of food.2
    • About 30-40% of the digestive response occurs in the Cephalic phase, which is the period of time where our brain tells our body to get ready to digest food.2 Have you ever smelled cookies baking in the oven and had your mouth start to water? This is the beginning of the cephalic phase and the saliva activation is one step in digestion. If we are distracted while eating, this phase is interrupted.
  • Serve yourself small portions and be conscious of the serving utensils, plates, bowls, and cups you are using
    • Brian Wansink, PhD is the author of the bestseller Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and a well-known researcher of eating behaviors. One of his studies found that people served themselves 31% more ice cream when using a large scoop versus a small scoop.3 He has also shown that we serve ourselves more when we use a larger plates and a wide-mouthed cups.
    • This includes while you are eating at a restaurant! Ask for half of your meal to go when you order. Restaurant/Fast-food portion sizes have increased 2-5 times in the past 30 years. We do not need that much!
  • Chew each bite at least 20-30 times
    • Take the time to enjoy the properties of each bite. What does it smell like? Is it chewy? Crunchy? Warm? Cold? What does it taste like? 
    • Studies have shown that chewing your food more thoroughly helps slow you down and prevents you from over eating.2 On average, it takes the brain 20-30 minutes to recognize the feelings of fullness4, so if you eat too fast, you will likely eat more than your body needs.

When we eat, we release the feel good chemical oxytocin. Food should be enjoyed and mindful eating is a great way to begin to have that healthy relationship with food again. Read for more ways to improve your life through mindfulness.

Jonae Perez is currently a clinical dietitian at Professional Child Development Associates providing nutrition counseling for children with special health care needs. She completed her Master of Public Health and nutrition training at the University of Washington, Seattle. She has a background in exercise science and is passionate about adult and pediatric wellness. 

References

  1. Sebastian RS, Enns CW & Goldman JD (2011). Snacking Patterns of U.S. Adults. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2008. Food Surveys Research Group Dietary Data Brief No. 4. http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/80400530/pdf/DBrief/4_adult_snacking_0708.pdf
  2. Why Being Mindful Matters.” July 2013. http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/food-medicine/why-being-mindful-matters
  3. http://mindlesseating.org
  4. “Mindful Eating.” Harvard Health Letter. February 1, 2011. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating