Losing weight or eating healthy is very hard. Upon failure we think the sole reason is the food be it too high in calories, too sweet, or deep-fried. Thinking a bit more practically, we might conclude that the problem was specifically the excess of fat cells, so we try to solve the issue by turning to physical solutions like liposuction. In the long run such a solution doesn’t work out and we then blame our digestion and sign up for Vertical Banded Gastroplasty. We end up keeping to a severe diet, having had our fat surgically removed and our stomach stapled, and we are still not satisfied with the way we look.
Did we go a little too far? Or were we heading in the wrong direction in the first place?
It wasn’t the food, the fat cells or our stomach causing the failure. It was a mere fault of our mind limiting our awareness of all the signals coming from our body. Mindful eating teaches us to listen to our body’s messages on how full or hungry we actually are. Isn’t it astonishing that the only thing needed for losing weight or eating healthy is being aware of what is happening prior or during our eating processes?
Mindful eating does not limit foods from our diet clearing out our cupboards or forbidding eating after 6 pm. The only ‘must’ is mindfulness. If you are new to this practice, you can learn about it here. Eating mindfully involves being fully aware and present in the moment of eating, listening to signals, both internal and external, and not judging or criticising one’s choices or actions. It is not about focusing on your weight but about embracing every moment when you are cooking or eating and fully enjoying it. This way, you will find the weight and foods that are best for you naturally.
Why is Mindful Eating beneficial?
- Mindful eating points out unhealthy behaviours you engage in like overeating or eating when not hungry. US researchers have found evidence supporting the notion of mindful eating being effective in treating eating disorders like binge-eating and emotional eating as it introduces a more considered way of eating that prevents people from making unhealthy choices. This way, mindful eating turns out to be more effective than dieting for weight loss in the long term as one learns to eat healthily. Dieters typically reach their goal the first year but regain the weight in the following years.
- When you eat fast, you don’t give your signals enough time to pass from the body to your brain. It takes 20 minutes for the body to tell the mind you are full and you should stop eating. If you eat too fast though, the signal doesn’t have time to come through, so you end up overeating. With mindful eating, overeating doesn’t take place as the slow eating allows the signals time to arrive.
- By increasing your awareness of hunger and fullness, you learn to distinguish between your actual hunger and emotional hunger such as eating when you are sad or bored. You start eating at set times and only when your body actually needs energy.
- Finally, and by eating mindfully, you start to really taste the food and enjoy every single bite of it as the flavour unravels. Unhealthy food does not attract you anymore as you learn how it makes you feel afterwards.
Guide to Mindful Eating
1. Plan your choices. For each week, prepare a meal plan, write a shopping list and stick to it when at the market. Include eating out and trying new recipes or new ingredients. Make your plan exciting and remove the possibility of having to ad hoc decisions.
2. Don’t change your life around all at once. Start with baby steps and choose to eat mindfully one meal a day or even once a week. Mark your calendar and enjoy your Sunday brunch as you fully turn to your senses and savour the meal.
3. Stop before you start. Before picking up your fork and knife, ask yourself some questions: What are your emotions in the moment? Do you feel hungry, bored or maybe stressed? Make sure you only eat when you are actually physically hungry and separate emotional cues from real hunger cues. Don’t come to the table when you are already starving – this way there is a high chance of overeating. Only start eating when you are getting hungry.
5. Consciously control your portion. Don’t place the serving bowl on the table. Instead, put leftovers in containers and place them in the fridge to not go for seconds. Use a smaller plate if you are trying to lose weight to not feel you are depriving yourself.
6. Slow down. The goal is to chew slowly while noticing everything about your food and body in the moment of eating. Pay attention to the colours of your food, the flavours, textures, smells, and even sounds if your meal is crunchy. Put your utensils down after every bite and enjoy. See if you can spend 20 minutes eating mindfully.
7. Keep thinking. For mindful eating, you don’t need to keep your thoughts away. Instead, try thinking actively of where the food you are eating came from, how it grew, who prepared it. Be grateful to every living creature that made your meal possible and appreciate the efforts of those who participated in the preparation.
8. When you finish eating, take a moment to notice how you feel. Ask yourself whether you are full, what aftertaste you have and how you feel overall.
9. Do not judge or criticise. If you feel you did something wrong in your practice or even if you skipped your mindful meal and ate on the go, don’t go hard on yourself. Accept what happened and try to make a change the next time. Just keep practicing! Don’t restrict foods you love from your diet. Instead, stock up on your favourites and be present as you savour every moment.
Mindful eating is an effective practice to take control of your eating behaviour. While traditional diets don’t work for many of us in the long term, mindful eating is a way of life that suits everyone as it enhances life on all levels by bringing awareness to such an important aspect, eating.