As a Registered Dietitian, many people often think my job revolves around teaching people what they should and shouldn’t eat to stay healthy. While nutrition education is certainly part of my role, most people I see often have a pretty good idea of how they SHOULD eat, but have difficulty putting this knowledge into action. This is why I spend a large part of my time counselling people on how to implement positive behavior change in their daily life.
Something I often address with my clients is the concept of mindful eating. Research shows that we spend over 2 hours a day eating, however I’m willing to bet that many of us spend most of this time doing also something else – working, driving, watching TV or on our phones.
While we may be programmed to think that this “multi-tasking” is a good thing, not being fully aware of what we are eating may actually be a contributing factor to chronic health issues, including obesity.
How can mindful eating help with this? Based on the psychological concept of “mindfulness”, a type of meditation that helps people recognize and cope with emotions and physical sensations, mindful eating helps us focus on and appreciate the food we are eating.
Evidence shows that mindfulness and mindful eating can also help with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, as well as disordered eating.
So how can you learn to eat mindfully? Here are some tips I recommend to many of my clients:
- Monitor your appetite and learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. Are you really hungry or or are you stressed, bored or anxious? While some people tend to eat less when they are experiencing negative emotions, many individuals use food as a way to cope with how they are feeling. Recognizing this behavior is the first step in making healthy and informed dietary choices.
- Try not to let yourself get ravenously hungry or completely stuffed. Picture how you’ve felt after not having eaten for hours, or after a huge turkey dinner – neither are very pleasant feelings and are a result of not listening to (or not having the chance to listen to) your internal hunger cues. Try to stay in the middle of what’s called the “hunger-fullness scale” – most of the time you should feel either slightly hungry (before a meal) or completely satisfied (after meal); avoiding extremes is key.
- Bring all of your senses to your meal. When we are hurriedly eating a snack in the car, or engrossed in a movie while eating dinner, it’s easy to forget what we are actually eating. Be attentive to the color, texture and aroma of your meal – this may sound a little silly, but using not just our taste to experience our food can prevent us from overeating and helps us feel completely satisfied with our meal.
- Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. It takes our body up to 20 minutes to recognize that we are full, so give it time to do this. Otherwise, you may end up eating much more than you need and feeling uncomfortably stuffed afterwards.
- Try to truly appreciate your food. With food being so omnipresent for many of us, it’s often easy to forget where it comes from and how it’s made. Attempt to learn and be aware of your food not only when eating, but also when shopping, preparing and cooking.
Implementing any of these tips into your daily life can help you live and eat mindfully and truly enjoy your food - I encourage you to try it out! For more personalized recommendations, you can always speak with a Registered Dietitian who can guide you through the process of mindful eating and put you in the right direction for healthy behavior change.
Julia Burt, M.Sc(A), RD