Erin Judge, RDN, a Nashville-based dietician and nutritionist suggests we should pay more attention to what we actually eat as we consume it.
You are busy at work. You grab your lunch, heat it up, take it back to your desk, then before you know it, it is gone. You barely even remember what you ate. Sound familiar?
Mindless eating is a common practice in our culture, which is filled with distraction, desire for efficiency, and convenience at our fingertips. The main purpose of food is to nourish our bodies and give us the nutrients we need to live long, healthy lives, but being mindful of the food we eat is equally important. Mindful eating allows us to understand how foods impact our bodies, listen to our hunger and fullness cues to avoid under or overeating, and feed our bodies exactly what they need each day for optimal health, focus, and performance.
Mindful eating is simply making food decisions with thought, intention, and purpose. This is a journey and can take time to put into practice because the food we need and the way we respond to food changes day to day. If you want to get started on the journey, here are 5 simple ways you can practice mindful eating today.
1. Ask “why?”
Before grabbing a food or drink item, ask yourself why. Are you reaching for food out of boredom, stress, or a habit, instead of actual hunger? Are you reaching for sugary foods or alcohol because you had a hard day and feel stressed? Are you hungry from a long day and need a nutrient-dense snack or meal to re-energize your body? Asking “why” is the first step in truly understanding what your body is saying and what foods your body needs throughout the day. It is also a good way to discover food habits that may be contributing to excess weight gain, poor sleep, energy fatigue, and more.
2. Respond with kindness.
After you hear your why, it’s time to respond. Responding with kindness means to give your body what it really needs. If you find that you are making a choice out of stress or sadness, try taking a walk or doing a yoga flow to address the true need, instead of reaching for a sugary snack. If you find that you are hungry, kindness looks like choosing nutrient-dense foods that will nourish your body well and eating enough to be satisfied, not too little and not too much. Kindness can also look like enjoying your favorite snack, even if it is not as healthy, but not overeating to the point of discomfort.
When you decide to eat a food, enjoy it by using all of your senses. Look at it, touch it, smell it, taste it, and listen to it (think about the sizzle in the skillet). Take note of the flavor as you eat and how your taste buds respond. If you’re with a friend, talk about it and make the meal more of an experience than just another meal you won’t remember. When you take time to truly enjoy the foods you choose, you aren’t as likely to miss your fullness cue and overeat them. Mindful enjoyment of food, no matter how healthy the food, can also prevent feelings of guilt and shame that can lead to disordered eating patterns.
4. Check in.
During and after your snack or meal, check in with your body. Are you full and satisfied? Are you still hungry? Does your stomach feel bloated? Checking in will allow you to know when to stop eating or when to add to your meal to meet your nutrition needs in that moment. It will allow you to know what foods work best for your body and which ones don’t really work well at all. This will also help you make decisions moving forward because you know how your body will respond to certain foods.
5. Move on.
Once you are finished with your snack or meal and have enjoyed the food, let it go. No matter how well you followed steps 1 through 4 or what choice you made, you ate the food and nourished your body in some way. You can never take back your choice, so if you allow guilt and shame to take over, you will only waste time and energy by letting the food control your emotion and mood. Mindfulness creates healthy choices, guilt and punishment do not. For example, instead of running to the gym after a piece of cake, put your plate away and continue with your day. Then, go to the gym when your motivation is to increase your endorphins and strengthen your body. See the difference?
Start here, give yourself grace, and move forward with your mindful eating journey!
Erin Lisemby Judge, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Judge Nutrition & Wellness