According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, but more than half the time, we're doing something else too. Because we're working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we're not fully aware of what we're eating. And this mindless eating—a lack of awareness of the food we're consuming—may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic and other health issues, says Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and lecturer at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
We often eat for reasons other than hunger—to satisfy emotional needs, to relieve stress or inactivity (trip to the fridge), or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom.
Mindful eating isn’t about being perfect, always eating the right things, or never allowing yourself to eat on-the-go again. And it’s not about establishing strict rules for how many calories you can eat or which foods you have to include or avoid in your diet. Rather, it’s about focusing all your senses and being present as you shop for, cook, serve, and eat your food. Being mindful of the food you eat can promote better digestion, keep you full with less food, and influence wiser choices about what you eat in the future. It can also help you free yourself from unhealthy habits around food and eating.
Although the ideal mindful-eating food choices are similar to the Mediterranean diet centred on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils—the technique can be applied to a cheeseburger and fries. By truly paying attention to the food you eat, you may find yourself indulging in these types of foods less often
- Begin with your shopping list. Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you're shopping. Fill most of your cart in the produce section and avoid aisles which are heavy with processed foods.
- Its easy to confuse hunger with thirst. We often have a feeling we need to consume something. Think carefully before you – is it actually thirst that’s driving the need, or real hunger-pangs?
- Come to the table with an appetite— but not when ravenously hungry. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.
- Start with a small portion. Don’t start with a plate piled high with food, Take enough to satiate your immediate hunger, then pause and take a break, then assess your hunger level.
- Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you're enjoying it with.
- Bring all your senses to the meal. When you're cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to colour, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.
- Take small bites. It's easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn't full. Put down your utensil between bites.
- Chew thoroughly. Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavours that are released.
- Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won't bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with your tablemates.