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If you follow the latest food trends, you’ve probably heard about mindful eating and its reported health benefits — but what is mindful eating exactly? And how might it benefit you? Read on to find out!
The Origins of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating originally comes from Buddhism and is simply the idea of meditating on eating; becoming mindful of what you eat and why.
In everyday life, you might not practically be able to meditate while you eat — feeding a family of five isn’t always an exercise in meditation. However, you can practice many elements of mindful eating (sometimes referred to as intuitive eating) without taking things to the extreme. If you are new to meditation, though, it helps to understand the basics.
RELATED: The Beginning Meditation Techniques That You Need to Know
Why Practice Mindful Eating?
It makes sense to eat well, as it comes with health benefits, but why would you choose to practice mindful eating? As it turns out, it’s for the same reason — mindful eating can help combat eating disorders, as well as depression and anxiety. (1)
Not only that, mindful eating can help you lose weight and develop healthier eating patterns. This is partially thanks to mindfulness helping you decrease stress and, therefore, cortisol levels in your body (high cortisol levels can promote abdominal fat). (2) (3)
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If you are prone to binge eating and emotional eating, mindful eating also may help you overcome those problems. (4)
In short, mindful eating has shown promise for helping create healthy habits that combat various diseases.
Savoring Sensations by Eating Slowly
So, how do you eat mindfully? You start by practicing slow eating and, while eating, savoring every mouthful. This allows you to truly experience every bite.
To practice this properly, engage your senses. What’s the texture of the food you’re eating? Is it hot, cold, or somewhere in-between? What does it smell like? What does it taste like?
By becoming aware of every bite you take, you slowly start becoming aware of what you truly want to eat, and what you’re just eating out of habit.
By eating slowly you also take the time you need to fill up. Often when we eat too fast we eat too much, because our body doesn’t register it’s full until twenty minutes after we start eating.
Emotional Eating — the New Way
Often when we refer to emotional eating it’s related to eating something because we’re feeling down, or want comfort. For example, eating a pint of ice cream because we want to think about something more pleasurable than our recent breakup.
The problem with this kind of emotional eating is it often doesn’t serve us well — eating a big sugary meal might give us a “high,” but it soon leads to a low, and our body isn’t nourished by what we’ve eaten. In fact, our body has to deal with whatever not-so-healthy food we indulged in to temporarily feel better.
When you practice mindful eating you become aware of the emotions that trigger you to eat that big sugary meal, how you feel when you eat it, and how you feel afterward. Once you become aware that big sugary meals don’t make you feel great in the long run, you are less likely to want to indulge in them.
Likewise, you pay attention to your feelings before, during, and after eating healthy foods. Once you consciously recognize you feel better after eating healthy foods, you naturally will come to choose those foods.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Fit in More Healthy Food into Your Life
Cutting Out Distractions
Savoring the sensations of eating also means you need to cut out other distractions. When you eat, you eat. You aren’t playing with your phone, working on your laptop, or watching TV at the same time. You’re simply eating. Your focus is on the food.
For some, this means that meals become a meditative experience. For others, it simply means you eat more slowly and talk less. Meals still can be a social occasion, just one where you think about what you eat a little more.
For families, it can be fun to play games where the children describe the various foods they eat so they learn to focus. Becoming food detectives and figuring out the different ingredients in the meals also may work.
In short, becoming mindful of what you are eating should mean meals become a more enjoyable experience.
Know Thy Food
Once upon a time, people lived on a farm or lived close to one. Today, people have become disconnected from the origin of their food to the point where some children don’t even know that meat comes from an animal.
Mindfulness around food also means mindfulness around the source of the food — how it was grown, who helped produce it, and so forth.
Becoming Aware of Hunger
As mentioned earlier, we often eat certain foods because of emotional triggers, not because we are hungry. It also is true that many of us eat out of habit. Likewise, sometimes we forget to eat when we are hungry because we’re too busy with something else. Mindfulness is all about becoming aware of how you feel, including when you are hungry and when you aren’t. By checking in with your body during the day, you can make a conscious decision to eat when you truly need to eat.
Remember that eating at irregular hours, even if you eat less, actually can cause you to gain weight since that causes the body to go into starvation mode — trying to burn as little energy as possible and loading up on fat when eating. You also risk upsetting your blood sugar levels. In fact, irregular eating patterns have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. (5) (6)
Overall, mindful eating is a practice of awareness — becoming aware of how food makes you feel, and what it tastes like. In turn, this awareness will help you make the right choices when you eat because you will know what foods make you feel good.
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