Cultivating mindful eating habits can help you enjoy your food more and cut down on overeating. Try one (or all) of these four strategies.
Whenever I talk about foods that can help control your hunger, I’m aware of the fact that hunger is only one if the things that drive us to eat. Frequently, we eat simply because it’s time to eat, or because food is present, or because we’re bored, or blue, or procrastinating. I’d even go so far as to say that, for many of us, hunger is only rarely our primary motivation for eating.
If we only ate when we were hungry, then choosing foods that are good at satisfying hunger (such as those that are high in protein, fiber, and water) would pretty much solve the problem of overeating. But because we so often eat (and overeat) when we’re not hungry, we also need strategies that address non-hunger eating.
This week, I have four strategies that can help you avoid mindless eating and overeating.
Mindful Eating Tip #1: Only Eat
Just as distracted driving is responsible for a huge number of traffic accidents, distracted eating is the culprit in a lot of overeating. Eating in front of the computer or TV, in the car, while reading, or any other time when your attention is elsewhere is an easy way to lose track of what and how much you’ve eaten.
See also: Why We Overeat
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. When eating lunch by myself, I always want to grab a newspaper to read or scroll through my Facebook feed while I’m eating. If I get hungry while I’m working, I’m tempted to bring a snack back up to my office so that I can keep working while I nosh.
But when most of our attention is on something else while we’re eating, we barely taste our food. We get very little enjoyment out of it. We’re not in touch with how much we’ve eaten. And worst of all, because we’re not at all tuned in to our bodies, we’re more likely to keep eating past the point at which our hunger is satisfied.
The solution is simple: When you’re eating, only eat. Turn off the TV. Step away from your desk. Put down your phone. Give all of your attention to your meal and the experience of eating it. Something that you’d eat mindlessly while staring at your screen might suddenly strike you as not worth the calories once you’re actually paying attention. If just eating isn’t entertaining enough for you, maybe you’re actually not that hungry!
I don’t mean to imply that you always have to eat alone—or completely ignore your dining companions—in order to eat mindfully. Eating with others can divert some of your attention away from what you are eating and how you feel while eating it. But sharing a meal is one of life’s great pleasures—and it needn’t come at the expense of mindful eating. The next two tips can help you eat mindfully even when eating with other people.
Mindful Eating Tip #2: Mind the First Bite
Last fall, I went on a Mindfulness Retreat and at the retreat center I attended, meals are consumed in complete silence, in order to promote truly mindful eating—with every bite given our full attention. Although it was an illuminating exercise, eating all of your meals in complete silence isn’t really practical in real life. But you can get a lot of benefit simply from giving the first bite of every meal or every food your complete attention.
This tip is actually from Chade Meng Tan, best known as Google’s in-house mindfulness guru. In his book, Joy on Demand, he talks about tuning in to the “thin slices of joy” in everyday life as a way of increasing our overall happiness and contentment.
Research has shown that the very first bite or sip of a tasty food or beverage is the most rewarding, with every subsequent bite or sip delivering a diminishing amount of pleasure. So Tan’s tip is really designed to help you pay attention to the most pleasurable moment of every meal.
But really tuning into the very first bite of every food you eat can also help ensure that the decision to begin eating is an intentional one, as opposed to a reflexive or even unconscious response.
How often have you walked by a dish of candy and popped one in your mouth without even stopping to consider whether you even like that kind of candy? Or walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bit of whatever was sitting on the counter or table, just because it was there? Five minutes later, and you might not even remember having eaten it!
If you can train yourself to give your complete attention to the first bite of every food, the decision to eat something will always be a conscious choice. You’ll also notice how much pleasure you do or don’t get from it. Try this for a week and watch what happens!