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Mindful Eating for a Fresh Start

MAC Nutrition Team - Thursday, August 09, 2018

Mindful Eating for a Fresh Start

As we head towards September (just a few short weeks away!), the prospect of summer vacations ending, fall activities starting up again, and life getting busier may seem a little bit daunting. This can be especially true in the realm of food. Maybe you wanted to take the summer to improve your diet and feel lighter and more energetic, and the busy-ness of autumn feels like it will throw a monkey wrench into all your progress. Or maybe you didn’t quite meet your nutrition-related goals this summer, and it feels like it will be even more difficult come fall. Either way, with September coming up, this can be the perfect time to focus on nutrition.

For many people who remember well the rhythms of a school schedule or who still live their lives by an academic calendar, September can feel like a fresh start. And no matter what nutrition changes you’re thinking of making, one approach can be almost universally helpful: mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and focusing your attention on what’s happening right now. Meditation and yoga are practices that encourage mindfulness. Mindfulness itself has been gaining interest in recent years, with applications in the management of multiple health conditions. So, how can mindfulness help you reach your nutrition goals?

Mindful eating can help you to feel more satisfied by food by bringing your attention to the smell, taste, and texture of food, and to the experience of eating it. Eating mindfully can lend insight into why you’re eating, how you’re eating, and how it makes you feel. Are you eating because you’re truly hungry, or because you’re stressed out or tired? Are you eating so quickly that you soon become uncomfortably full without even realizing it? Are you taking a breath between bites or hardly stopping to chew? Are you eating in front of a computer or television, making it next to impossible to pay attention to your fullness and hunger levels? How does eating a hamburger versus a salad make you feel afterward? Does it depend on what else you’ve had to eat that day or on what you’re doing after you eat?

Mindfulness can help you to really tap into your feelings about food as well as your eating habits, helping you to take steps toward a diet that serves you better. With continued practice, mindful eating can help guide you toward a way of eating that feels intuitive and effortless, rather than the struggle that eating in our modern world has become.

The next time you eat something, try this mindfulness exercise:

  1. First, sit down to eat, and make sure eating is the only thing you’re doing (not eating while reading, watching TV, browsing the web, or doing work). Feel free to eat with others.
  2. Next, close your eyes and relax. Take a deep breath, slowly breathing in and out. Notice how your mouth feels. Is it dry? Is it watering? Take note of how your stomach feels. Are you hungry? How hungry are you? If you’d like, rate your hunger level on a scale of one to ten.
  3. Reflect for a moment on why you’re eating. Are you eating because you’re hungry? Because you’re bored? Because you’re stressed out? Because everyone else is eating? Simply because it’s lunchtime?
  4. Pick up your first bite of food. Don’t eat it yet—first simply look at it. What color is it? What texture does it have? Smell it. Looking at and smelling food is the first step of eating and starts your digestive processes before you even put food in your mouth. 
  5. Now, place the bite of food in your mouth, without chewing it at first. How does it feel in your mouth?
  6. Next, bite into the food. Notice exactly what it feels like to bite into it. What is the texture like? What does it taste like? Is it tart, sweet, savory, or salty? What temperature is the food?
  7. Slowly chew the food, thoroughly, and swallow it. After you swallow it, notice how your mouth feels, and notice any taste that you may have in your mouth. Can you still taste the food? How satisfied do you feel having eaten that bite?
  8. Continue eating your food, putting your fork down between bites and chewing each bite thoroughly.
  9. As you eat, take note of how you’re feeling. Are you feeling hungry? Full? Stressed? Calm?

You can practice this exercise any time you eat. You may even find it helpful to write some of your thoughts and feelings down before, during, and after eating. The act of writing it down may help you with the mindfulness process, as writing forces you to really stop, think, notice, and feel. You may prefer to verbalize your thoughts and feelings out loud, and could even record your voice as an alternate way of documenting your mindful eating exercise. As you continue to practice mindful eating, it may become second nature to you and may get you closer to eating in a way that feels good to you.

As always, the Mount Auburn Club Registered Dietitians are here to help you make any nutrition changes. We are happy to meet and discuss in further detail how the mindfulness approach, along with other nutrition changes, can help you reach your goals. Feel free to contact us to set up an appointment today!

Today's savory post is from Louisa Paine, Registered Dietitian at The Mount Auburn Club.

Want to learn more about how we can help? Contact the MAC Nutrition team today!

The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.