Take a minute as you begin reading this to think about your habits surrounding the way you eat meals and snacks. Do you go through the motions of the day scarfing down the first thing you see just to squash the feelings of ravenous hunger? Or maybe it’s the opposite and you eat at 8am, 12pm, and 6pm on the dot because that’s scheduled time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, regardless of your hunger levels.
Ever have instances of “fog eating” where your hand somehow manages to bring food to your face for 20 minutes straight, and then low and behold, you come to realize you’ve eaten almost an entire box of Wheat Thins all while watching a mind numbing tv show? Or maybe you’re like me and manage to inhale a whole basket of tortilla chips at Condados without blinking an eye. We’ve all been there. It’s easy to eat food mindlessly if we’re not used to focusing on our hunger levels or setting an intention for our meals. What does setting an intention for eating even mean, anyway? Is that some sort of new and trendy millennial tip? No, but here I am, a millennial, giving you advice on what to do when you sit down for your next meal.
1. Identify your reason for eating
What influenced your meal or snack of choice? Did you reach for it because it was in the break room at work? Are you hitting that afternoon slump and begging for a source of energy, no matter whether it’s an apple or a handful of M&M’s? Are you stressed, hormonal, emotional, or exhausted? Are you just plain hungry? There can be a slew of reasons for wanting or choosing to eat, but many of us don’t take the time to actually ask ourselves what that reason is before chowing down. It’s important to identify the reasons that drive our food choices because it can help us to recognize a more prevalent issue at hand such as chronic stress, too little sleep, or constant lack of preparation. The next time you make a food choice, take an extra 10 seconds to ask yourself “why do I want this?”
2. Eliminate distractions
This is a tough one. I’ll be honest, there’s nothing I look forward to more than coming home from work and eating dinner with a good episode of New Girl on Netflix. Think about the times you’ve sat with your dinner or a bag of snacks in front of the tv, raced to finish whatever you managed to find for breakfast while driving to work, or powered through lunch in front of your computer. While on some days this is what our schedule allows, it’s not healthy to make it an everyday habit. You might realize that you didn’t really enjoy your meal at all, and most times our digestion suffers from lack of thoughtful and thorough chewing. Digestion begins in the mouth when we secrete the enzyme amylase through our saliva. If we’re constantly eating our food quickly without tuning into the taste, smell, and texture, we’re not able to effectively break down and reap the benefits of our food. Think bloating, indigestion, cramps, gas, etc. I’m sure you’ve experienced it all. Turn off your phone, shut off the television, and sit down at a table with nothing in front of you but your meal. Chew your food thoughtfully and ask yourself what you like about the food you’re eating and how it’s benefiting you. While it might seem silly at first, I guarantee it’ll be an entirely different eating experience you’ll learn to love!
3. Rate your hunger and fullness levels
Seems easy and instinctual to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, right? Not exactly. As adults, many of us have trained ourselves to ignore our biological hunger cues due to years of yo-yo dieting, thinking we have to stop eating by a certain hour in the evening, or because we find ourselves so “busy” at work that we have to ignore the pangs of hunger to get things done. Some of us tend to eat only when we feel famished, and then we will inhale WHATEVER food is in front of us. We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by disregarding our hunger cues when our bodies are giving us every signal that we should eat. It’s also important to slowww down as we eat. This helps us recognize the body’s cue that we’ve had enough food. If it feels helpful, try rating your hunger or fullness on a scale of 0-10, with 0 = ravenous and 10 = overstuffed. Being on either end isn’t ideal, so ask yourself about the times when you are most likely to be at a 0 or 10. Think of ways you can prevent those extremes in the future so that you can create an optimal and enjoyable eating experience.
4. Tune in to your body before your mind
This goes back a bit to identifying your reason for eating. Many of us are more inclined to eat based off of our emotions rather than physical signs of hunger. Our brain’s reward center lights up when we consume hyper-palatable foods, so it makes sense as to why we form emotional connections to eating. However, it’s important that we don’t use food as a regular coping mechanism for when we’re feeling sad, anxious, frustrated, stressed, or lonely. Try to hone in on what your body is telling you throughout the day. Is your stomach rumbling? Do you feel lightheaded? Are your energy levels dropping? What are the physical signs of hunger that let you know it’s time to eat? And what are some emotional triggers that drive you to eat? Make sure you understand the distinction between what your body needs and what your mind needs.
5. Engage all of your senses
When’s the last time you REALLY paid attention to how your food tastes? Sure, we’re used to tasting our food. But like… are you REALLY tasting it? (Okay, Austen, move on with your point). We often eat on autopilot, meaning we habitually go through the motions of eating throughout the day without honing-in on each bite of food that we take. At your next meal, take the time to think about each ingredient, flavor, color, texture, smell, crunch, sip, etc. Engage. Your. Senses. How does slowing down and actually tasting every aspect of your food affect the quality and quantity of your food choices? Put down your fork between bites. Chew. Reflect. ENJOY the food in front of you.
Between crazy hours at work, taking care of our families, and forgetting to take care of ourselves, I find that practicing mindful eating is something that each and every one of my clients can benefit from. I often see clients that are disconnected from their food choices and lack the enjoyment that food can so often bring to their lives. Food should be nourishing, fun, social, and of course tasty, but how can it be any of those things if we aren’t tuned in to our both our body and our mind? If you find yourself struggling with enjoying your food due to years of restriction and dieting, I’m here to help! Schedule a complimentary consultation with me and learn how I can guide you back to a place of loving your food, your body, and ditching the diet mentality.