So what is mindful eating, exactly? Studies show people who eat mindfully have reduced anxiety, more stable blood sugar levels, exercise greater control over food and experience mood improvements. Here’s how to eat mindfully.
Know your hunger
It’s easy to confuse boredom or thirst for hunger. Before you head for the pantry, ask whether you’re hungry, says psychologist Dr Naomi Crafti. Therapist and founder of Freedom From Food Mindful Eating Seminars Jane Caulfield uses an imaginary hunger scale. On this scale, one is ‘starving’, and ten is ‘completely full’. To eat mindfully, Jane recommends staying between a four and seven.
“If you get really overfull, eight and above, what happens is you tend to get lethargic… and you turn to food for comfort and eat even more,” she says. Conversely, if you’re really hungry (three and below), you make unhealthy food choices.
Lose the guilt
When choosing what to eat, be curious rather than judgmental. “Eat what your body wants and needs, rather than what a diet program or a third party would tell you should eat,” Dr Crafti says.
If you really feel like cereal for dinner, make that muesli count. “It’s okay to sometimes have desires for particular types of food that other people might consider to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’,” she says. Conversely, denying what you really want will eventually catch up with you as the proxy fails to satisfy and the deprivation accrues until in a weak moment you eat four Mars Bars.
“Rather than thinking that’s a bad thing and rather than feeling guilty – and the guilt often brings on a binge – you should say… ‘This is wonderful, I’m really enjoying it’,” Dr Crafti says.
Jump in head first
Before you tuck in, turn off devices including TV, radio and laptops. Make a point of sitting down to eat and focusing exclusively on eating for that time, engaging fully with your food. Be mindful of your five senses. Don’t just taste your food; smell it, appreciate the sound of the crunch, look at how pretty it is and notice its texture.
Mindful eating’s slow pace affords plenty of opportunities for you to notice whether your body’s had enough. It takes around 20 minutes for hunger-regulating hormones such as ghrelin and leptin to click into place, which is why consuming food quickly often leads to overeating. Give your body time to register how it feels before finishing your plate or going back for more. “If you finish your meal and you’ve got that impulse for more… give yourself 20 minutes and then check in with your belly and see if you’re really hungry,” says Caulfield.
NEXT: Mindful chocolate eating does exist! Read more here.