Have you ever eaten a meal while at your desk during a busy day and realized you ate everything without even noticing? Have you ever eaten an entire bag of potato chips before you even knew it was gone while watching TV? You may be engaging in mindless eating. Not actually paying attention to your food and what you are eating may be sabotaging your weight loss efforts. What if you could achieve a healthy body weight without counting calories, weighing your food, or feeling guilty when you fall off the wagon?
Many of us unfortunately started to be programmed to overeat in childhood, when our parents forced us to clean our plates. Forcing a child to eat when they are not hungry teaches them to override their own hunger and satiety signals. Most children have the natural ability to eat until they are satisfied and not stuffed, unlike many adults. In addition to conditioning in childhood, chronic dieting may have caused us to ignore hunger signals when we are “on a diet” or overeat when we are “off” the diet. If we believe that food might be scarce in the future, we tend to overeat today to make sure we don’t go hungry.
Mindfulness starts with being in the present moment. For many of us, our minds are living in either the past or the future. We are always thinking of what will happen tomorrow or maybe dwelling on painful experiences in the past. But, if we shift our attention to the present, we will see that our minds are a lot clearer, a lot less cluttered. Focusing on the present can help relieve stress and anxiety tied to ideas about the future or the past, reducing the need to eat emotionally. If we are able to be in the present moment we can notice what is happening around us and tap in to our body’s natural needs.
We have forgotten that our body actually naturally sends signals when it is hungry or satisfied. The key to long-term weight maintenance is to learn to listen to these signals by practicing mindful eating. The first step is to tap into these cues by always asking ourselves why we want to eat. Before you put something in your mouth, ask am I hungry? Am I sad? Angry? Bored? Tired? If you are NOT hungry, then you need to address the other emotional issues instead of eating. If you are sad, call a friend or watch a funny movie. If you are tired, take a nap! Eating will not resolve any of those other issues and may actually make you feel worse.
Other ways to be mindful is to limit distractions while eating. People who watch TV while eating tend to eat about 228 calories more than those who are not distracted. Make meal time special and sacred. Sit down, put on some soft music, and enjoy your meal. It takes about twenty minutes for the brain to register the feeling of fullness, so take your time while eating. Put your fork down and chew each bite well. If you are eating with others, enjoy the conversation instead of focusing on scarfing down your meal as quickly as possible. Eating too fast may even prevent us from absorbing nutrients properly to get the most out of our food.
Lastly, eat foods you enjoy and make you feel good. If you prefer fish over chicken, choose fish. Or if too much sugar in the morning gives you an energy crash later in the day, start your day with protein instead. Listening to how your body feels and reacts with certain foods can help you tailor a diet that is healthiest for you. Try keeping a journal of your food and moods to help you identify your optimal eating pattern. Of course it’s important to maintain balance by including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains into your diet, but still honor your taste preferences within those categories. Food was meant to be enjoyed, so take the time, pay attention to it, and enjoy eating mindfully for a healthy weight.