By Angela Cataldo, Student at Clemson University and BodiMojo Blog Contributor
We all struggle with temptation to some extent. Many people who strive to live a healthy lifestyle struggle with the temptation to eat unhealthy food. What if there was a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle without feeling consumed by temptation?
Research shows that mindful eating combats unhealthy eating patterns and promotes weight loss from the inside out. Mindful eating addresses the underlying causes of overeating, such as stress and cravings. Jean Kristeller, a psychology professor at Indiana State University, created Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training to teach people how to savor food, instead of feeling guilty about or avoiding certain foods. Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Applying this mentality to our food choices can be beneficial to our bodies and minds.
So what is mindful eating exactly? It’s all about enjoying your food: feeling the texture of each bite, tasting the range of flavors in your mouth, and recognizing all that went into creating your meal. Typically, we eat without much awareness. Many of us eat simply because we are bored, stressed, or upset, not because we are actually hungry. Although eating may appease or distract us in the moment, it is not a solution in the long term. If we mistake emotional discomfort for hunger, we could be missing out on a more effective remedy, such as talking with a friend or going for a walk. Mindful eating can increase self-awareness, which has positive effects on our food choices as well as our mood, stress management, and resilience.
Seven ways to practice mindful eating
Only focus on eating. We spend so much time multitasking and eating on the go. We watch TV or text while we chow down. Or, we eat on the go while driving. Next thing you know the bag of chips is gone and you wonder where all the chips went. Mindful eating is about doing one thing at a time.
Savor your food. It’s easy to fall into a habit of eating on the run that we don’t even taste what we are eating! That’s missing out on the flavor and texture of food. Next time you take a few bites notice all the details! You may realize you enjoying certain foods and not others.
Pay attention to your body. Recognizing your levels of hunger and fullness will give you a better idea of how to portion your food and when to stop eating. Reassessing how your body feels after every few bites will allow you to be satisfied without becoming overstuffed. Ask yourself: “How hungry am I?” and “Does this food satisfy me?”
Acknowledge your cravings. If you are truly craving chocolate, go ahead and have it! The key to mindful eating is not deprivation but satisfaction. Rather than viewing food as an obstacle to be conquered, transform each meal and snack as an important time for enjoyment and reflection. If you take time for thoughtful reflection about your hunger level, the specialness of your treat, and how much you crave the taste, you will enjoy that chocolate even more and be less likely to finish the whole thing. Most diets focus on willpower and are often accompanied by guilt when you don’t adhere to the rules; exchanging this method for nonjudgmental exploration and understanding will help you build a more positive relationship with food.
Know your nutrition. Although food is much more than calories, it is important to learn the contents of your dish. Understanding which foods are more nutritious than others will allow you to make informed decisions about how you want to nourish your body. Always remember to practice nonjudgmental awareness and self-compassion, even if you make a less-than-nutritious choice. Beating yourself up won’t do any good. Simply plan ahead and try better at your next meal.
Notice your surroundings. Research shows that we tend to indulge when other people around us are indulging. Try to be conscious of this tendency in social settings; chew your food slowly and deliberately, and put down your utensils between bites of food. Practicing mindfulness includes being aware of your surroundings; maintain your positive relationship with food even if the presence of others. You may discover that you can enjoy both eating and talking the more deliberate you are about the whole dining experience.
Practice gratitude. Feeling thankful toward the farmers who grew your food, the truckers who delivered it to the store, and the cooks who crafted your plate will connect you to your meal. Not only does expressing gratitude promote mindfulness, it also boosts happiness and decreases stress.
Low-carb, fat-free, high-protein — there are so many fad diets out there! Instead of focusing on willpower and deprivation, eating mindfully may be the best long-term solution for a healthy body and mind.