According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends 2.5 hours eating each day. In addition, stats show that while we’re eating we’re almost always doing something else, whether it’s working on a project, watching TV, or scrolling through Facebook. This lack of awareness, or mindless eating, may play a role in the country’s obesity epidemic and other health issues, according to Dr. Lilian Cheung, nutritionist, and lecturer at the Harvard T.C. Chan School of Public Health.
Mindful eating uses the act of mindfulness or being present, to shift our focus from external thinking about food to exploring the experience of eating. By acknowledging that there’s no right or wrong way to eat, only varying degrees of awareness, we can become more aware of our connection with the environment and the impact of our food choices.
Don’t rush your meals.
With hectic schedules, it can feel challenging to find enough time to sit down and enjoy your food. Consequently, important meals like lunch and dinner are condensed to five-to-10 minute sprints—that’s not even close to the adequate amount of time needed for food to travel to the digestive system.
Eating too fast can lead to a series of health complications, ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to arthritis to heart disease. Rushing your meals can also confuse your body as to whether or not you’re full, as it takes 20 minutes for your brain to send signals of fullness.
To avoid rushing your meals, aim to set aside at least 30 minutes per meal. Sit down, relax, and take the time to enjoy your food one bite at a time. Your work can wait, but your health can’t.
It’s impossible to truly enjoy the experience of food when your attention is focused elsewhere. How often do you eat in the car or in front of the TV or your laptop? In most cases, eating while distracted is mindless and can lead to overeating, poor food choices, and overall unenjoyment.
Taking note of the times when you eat surrounded by distractions can help you make yourself more aware of these situations. To avoid distracted eating, aim to pick one meal or snack per day to commit to eating without distractions. If possible, pick three days this week in which you can successfully, without distraction, eat this meal or snack and take note of it on your calendar.
Before you sit down to eat, prepare a timer and set it to five minutes, put your phone on “do not disturb,’” and make sure your laptop screen is blank. Remember to turn off any other distracting devices so you can fully focus on the experience of eating.
Stop eating when you feel full.
Intuitive eating involves listening to your body and eating when you feel hungry, giving up diets, and exercising in a way that makes you feel good. But intuitive eating can be tricky: you started eating when you felt hungry, but sometimes the food tastes so good, you don’t want to stop. Especially when eating is helping you avoid something you don’t want to do, it can feel impossible to stop eating—even if you’re not hungry anymore.
Instead of laying everything out on the table, try serving yourself a single portion and putting the rest away before you sit down to eat. Of course, if you’re truly hungry after the first portion, you can eat more. The key to intuitive eating is to listen to your body’s cues and to give yourself enough time to figure out whether you’re still hungry or not.
Ask yourself why you’re eating.
Mindless eating is a surefire way to disregard your hunger. Instead of listening to our bodies, we’re often given external cues about when to eat—like your boss telling you it’s time for lunch.
The next time you’re about to eat, take a moment to pause and ask yourself why you’re eating. It takes practice to understand your hunger and honor it. If you’re not sure where to start, pay attention to the physiological signals your body sends you before you eat.
Try asking yourself:
Am I thinking about food more?
Am I feeling tired, sluggish, or lethargic?
Does my stomach feel empty?
Do I feel cranky or irritable?
In general, most people need energy intake every three-to-four hours. A common recommendation is to have three meals per day, with three food groups (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), about every three hours.
Focus on how food makes you feel.
By focusing on how food makes you feel—the texture of each bite, your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and how different foods affect your mood and energy—you can learn how to be present and savor the experience of eating. Take note of how different foods look, smell, and feel as you prepare them, and how they taste as you eat them.
Choosing foods that make you feel good can promote better digestion, help you stay full with less food, and influence healthier choices in the future. It can also help you avoid unhealthy habits surrounding food and eating, such as binge-eating or eating to fight boredom.
Mindful eating isn’t about perfection, counting calories, or eliminating foods from your diet. Instead, it’s about focusing on your senses and being present while you shop for, prepare, and eat food.
If you’re not sure which foods are right for you, consider trying the Blood Type Diet. According to naturopath Peter D’Adamo, creator of the diet, choosing foods based on your specific blood type can help you digest food more effectively. In turn, following the Blood Type Diet can help to promote weight loss, boost energy levels, and prevent disease.
Here’s what Dr. A’damo recommends for each blood type:
Type O: A high-protein diet focused primarily on lean meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables and light on grains, beans, and dairy. Taking supplements can also help with digestive issues that many people with type O blood tend to have.
Type A: A meat-free diet heavy on fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains, with a focus on organic and fresh foods.
Type B: A diet heavy on vegetables, eggs, lean meat, and low-fat dairy. When possible, avoid corn, wheat, buckwheat, tomatoes, sesame seeds, lentils, and peanuts.
Type AB: A diet based on seafood, dairy, tofu, and green vegetables. Because people with type AB blood tend to have low stomach acid, Dr. A’damo recommends avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and cured meat.
Mindful eating isn’t about perfection or never allowing yourself to eat on-the-go again—and it’s not about counting your calories or eliminating foods from your diet. Instead, it’s about focusing on your senses and being present while you shop for, prepare, and eat food.
[Feature Image: Unsplash]