Over the holidays, Becky’s house is a gauntlet of food temptations. Not only is she a great cook, but she has goodies lined up on the kitchen counter and on end tables: those ginger cookies from the Scandanavian mega-store, the foil-wrapped chocolate treats that are available only this time of year, yogurt-covered pretzel snowflakes encrusted in crushed candy canes, a plate of cookies from the neighbors… got the munchies yet?
She and her family mindlessly grab nibbles as they walk by – just a couple of things here and there. They may be unpleasantly surprised at the weight they end up gaining over the holidays by doing this and are probably unaware of the sheer number of excess empty calories they are taking in. We’ve all done the same thing, and it doesn’t just happen over the holidays!
Mindless eating may be one of the most destructive habits in modern society. We eat our food too quickly, munch during television viewing, eat while playing on our phones, and always have some kind of treat at the movie theater. These habits are contributing directly to our obesity epidemic and rates of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
It’s time for us to engage in mindful eating instead of mindless eating!
So let’s come at this from a practical angle and talk about simple strategies that you can use to cultivate the habit of mindful eating in a way that enhances and improves your eating habits.
As a first step, and perhaps the most labor-intensive one, take the one-week food journal challenge. Just one week of brutal honesty and diligence to record everything is all that is needed to open your eyes to your weak spots.
Yes, brutal honesty. Record every snack, every nibble, and every little treat you grab as you go through each day. You may want to use a calorie counting app to simplify this process. If possible, record your mood or other circumstances each day.
Carefully examine your results. How does your calorie consumption compare with what it should be? Are there certain moods or circumstances that coincide with mindless eating for you? Are there certain times of day that are your personal danger zones?
This information will arm you with some areas of your personal habits that you can target and address. Sometimes just simple awareness can really motivate you to make a positive change! Don’t be hard on yourself, but be glad that you have some solid goals to focus on.
With that information in hand, there are several steps you can take to make eating more mindful and deliberate.
First, don’t grab and munch. When you want to eat something, sit down and take a few minutes to enjoy it. Eat slowly, savor the flavors, and focus on the satisfaction of whatever you ate. If a food is not worth sitting down and enjoying, then it isn’t worth eating!
Next, engage all of your senses when you are eating. Enjoy smells, aesthetics, texture, mouthfeel, and flavors. Take a moment to note these features of everything you eat.
As mentioned previously, focus on the satisfaction conferred by what you are eating. By being deliberate about the focus on qualities of and the satisfaction derived from your food, you are sending messages to your brain that will trigger satiety much sooner than what you will experience with mindless eating.
Additionally, take a break between bites. If you are using utensils, put them down while chewing. The same goes for your hands. Essentially, make it a habit to not be preparing your next bite while still chewing on the current one. This more leisurely pace will help you to enjoy each bite more, and again, trigger those satiety signals before you overeat.
Getting out of the habit of mindlessly munching while watching TV can be a tough one. It is a strongly ingrained habit for so many of us! Arm yourself with water, flavored water, or tea, and find something else to keep your hands busy if that helps at first. Maybe you can start knitting while watching TV, or fiddle with a puzzle, or some other activity that will still allow you to pay attention to your show and avoid the need to busy your hands with food.
No hard and fast rules here, but consider taking 2-3 hour breaks between any meals and snacks. For example, if you just enjoyed a satisfying lunch, remind yourself of your commitment next time you are tempted to grab something on the go for a mindless munch mid-afternoon. Tell yourself to take a break, and maybe plan to sit down and mindfully enjoy a little snack at the end of this time window.
Our bodies crave nutrients, and we should prioritize nourishing them with adequate quantities of what we truly need. However, in our modern world, our signals and palates are confused between what we really need and what we want. Take care of your body by putting a priority on fresh, whole, healthful foods, and the cravings for junky foods will gradually abate.
Serving size is another key to mindful eating. Start with a modest serving, and know you can go back for more if you are truly hungry. By slowing your pace and eating mindfully, you will likely find that you are satisfied with less food than you were eating in the past. In fact, you may even leave a little on your plate, because there is no sense in mindlessly cleaning your plate just because your mother told you to all those years ago.
See how simple mindful eating can be? Take the challenge and commit to these foundational habits today!