Mindfulness Practices for Better EatingSep 13, 2023
Even though I have had a very hard time with mindfulness practices for better eating - mostly because of the monkeys playing dodgeball in my head, I still intentionally set out to practice at least one at every meal. Sometimes I don’t manage to be present. But more and more often I do. I am not talking about meditation here, which is a whole other branch of mindfulness. I am talking about all the things I am going to tell you in this blog.
Roadmap to this blog
My personal experience with becoming mindful
It's putting down the fork between bites and not having more than one bite in my mouth at a time. You would think putting down the fork between bites would take care of this, but it doesn’t. Yes, I might put the fork down at the end of each bite and not pick it up until the next one, but there is chewing and swallowing in between, and my second forkful often comes to my mouth during that in between spot. Come on…. You know what I am talking about.
My other mindfulness struggle that is getting much better is being aware of my satiety cues. I have the hunger cue nailed down. You might think you do too, but don’t assume that unless you have really worked on awareness and putting a number to your hunger signal. I have spent so many years dieting where the portions were given to me, by weighing, measuring and tracking, that I really had no awareness of the signal as to when I was done. I was done when the food was gone. Worse, yet, because I was eating too fast, I was still hungry when my plate was empty. This confounded the issue of finding my satiety cue, because what was in my stomach did not match my brain (where the number resides).
After a bit of study, I found out that it really DOES take approximately 20 minutes for your gut to send the message to your brain that it is full enough - not full to the point of the feeling of bursting. I started to respect the practice of slowing down and paying attention to my food.
I also started to pay attention to other signals. Have you ever been eating and just had a sigh? Have you ever been eating and then just started pushing food around? Have you ever been eating and suddenly the food is no longer as enjoyable as that first taste? Yeah, these are all signals that are flashing at you to STOP. And sometimes it doesn’t even take the 20 minutes.
I was not very successful when I officially did Intuitive Eating. I say officially because I worked with two different Intuitive Eating therapists. I was not successful because I was missing all these cues to stop eating. This is why I want you to work with your hunger scale and start to automatically assign a number when you are wondering whether you are hungry or full. Start practicing what I am giving you in this blog. Practice all through the upcoming holidays and start the new year with this in your pocket.
Many ways to be Mindful
There are many ways to be mindful. Often meditation is paired with the word mindfulness, but there are many mindfulness practices that do not have anything to do with meditation. I have found that these practices help my clients stay in the moment. Most overeating comes when our minds are somewhere else – either not thinking at all, or purposely using eating to avoid or dampen feelings. How often do we finish our dinner and don’t even remember that we have eaten it because we have not registered any fullness cues? How often do we wake up from what seems like a trance, and wonder how a bag of chips or box of cookies got emptied?
Let’s start with a few principles. I will elaborate on each as I give you some mindful practices to try.
- Start easy.
- Pay attention to something you do every day.
- Trust yourself and your feelings.
- Approach situations with curiosity.
- Breathe whenever you can.
- Ground yourself physically.
- Let expectations and judgments go.
Here are a few to think about and practice.
- Eat slowly and put your fork down between bites (or for instance if you are eating a rollup, put the food down).
- You probably eat way too fast anyway.
- If you are harboring some anxiety with this process you will find that the food will be gone even more quickly without even realizing that you ate it!
- Also, it is true that it takes about 20 minutes for the full signal to hit your brain.
- The science-y explanation is that: It normally takes 20 minutes for food to get from the stomach to the ileum in the small intestine.
- The ileum secretes the gut hormone, PYY, which is responsible for making you feel full.
- That is why it is better to eat slowly, and this will take care of “How do I know I am full?”
- In order to feel satisfied with the quantity of food you are eating you must SLOW DOWN.
- Slowing down takes mindful practice and you can easily accomplish this by putting down your fork or food between bites and then actually chewing your food.
- If you are a fast eater, notice at your next meal whether or not you actually thoroughly chew your food.
- You will be shocked, I guarantee it.
- Whenever I am with people who eat more slowly than I do, I always tell myself, “I will not be the first one finished at this table!”
- “DIG IN!” does not mean “Shovel it in!” Take your time!
- eat slowly,
- swallow and
- Put in a speed bump.
- Take what you feel is an adequate portion of food and divide it onto two plates.
- Put the plate in front of you that you are going to eat, and put the other plate either in the middle of the table or on a kitchen counter.
- Finish what is in front of you, then see if you want the rest.
- If you are eating out or with other people, just draw that divider in your mind’s eye.
- This is a great mindfulness practice to use.
- But, do not take 3 ounces of protein which is the standard “deck-of-cards” or “palm-of-your-hand” sized portion, and divide that.
- Take something substantially more to start so that half is at least 3 ounces.
- If you are still hungry and want to eat more, EAT MORE!!!
- You will learn what satiety is – believe me.
- Things take time.
- If you are an adult and have been overweight for a long time (look at me – since childhood!) you will have to meet mindfulness and intention at least halfway.
- I promise, eventually it will become natural for you.
- Before you even take your first bite take three deep breaths.
- You can do it quietly so no one else notices.
- Sit for a moment with your hands in your lap and breathe.
- Let your senses take in the food.
- Being mindful and aware of what you are eating will also help you feel more satisfied by the food in front of you.
- Add some slow breathing at various points in your meal – even during the preparation and plating.
- Just SLOW DOWN.
- We are always so rushed around food.
- Just tell yourself that, with each meal, you need the specific vitamins suggested by Mark David which are SD and BE. These stand for Slow Down and Breathe.
- Again, when you sit down with your plate of food in front of you, just take a moment and look at the food and be grateful it is there to nourish you.
- Take a breath.
- Put fork (or food) down.
- You would not think you need to be instructed to do this, until you actually do it and realize that you never do.
- Centering yourself at this step will prepare you, more than you know, for success with any eating style you plan to follow.
- Pay attention to what you are eating and how the food or quantity of food makes you feel.
- Think about how you might adjust the meal the next time you eat these foods, if you were not satisfied by the meal, if you didn’t feel well, if it made you sleepy or you found you were hungry soon after.
- Equally important is to notice if the meal or individual food made you feel good. And this is not just the lack of not feeling well.
- Did the meal give you energy?
- Did it satisfy you for several hours?
- Let’s use potatoes for an example.
- As you are cutting down sugars and foods that turn into glucose in your body, you might find that you are becoming sensitive to heavier carbohydrates.
- A baked potato that never bothered you, now feels heavy in your stomach.
- All vegetables are carbohydrates, but a potato will feel different in your body than a salad would.
- You might find that these starchier and heavier carbohydrate foods make you sleepy, make you hungry sooner or even unsettle your stomach.
- Start to pay attention to these things.
- It will help you make smarter choices so that you use your carbohydrates more wisely.
- It will also help you immensely if your goal is to be fully Keto, because a well-formulated Keto diet has a lot to do with what foods you are eating and in what quantities they satisfy you.
- But for any eating lifestyle, you will start tuning into hunger and satiety signals.
- If you want to move away from weighing and measuring, listen to your body to know that you have picked the right foods and quantities for satiety.
- This mindfulness practice is an important step to help you get out of diet prison.
- Survey what is on your plate and take just a few seconds to be grateful for what is in front of you.
- This will help keep you in the present.
- Have your feet on the floor, physically grounding yourself when you do this. This helps you with awareness – your body and how you feel in that body.
- This will also help slow you down.
Your Hunger Scale
- At all points of the day and all points of your meal (but especially as you are finishing) pay attention to your hunger scale.
- Unless this is your very first time following a nutritional program, I am sure you have heard of the hunger and fullness scale.
- I have covered the Hunger Scale in many blogs and podcasts because it is so important.
- Make sure you download the Resources link below so that you can get my hunger scale booklet.
- Kaisen – is the practice of gentle improvements. Small but steady 1% improvements in your behavior add up to great transformations over time.
- A lot of these practices are perfect opportunities to set up a Kaisen practice. For instance, your goal might be to sit at the table while you are eating. However, you might need several steps to get there.
- You’ll stop eating in the car.
- You’ll stop eating standing up at the counter or in front of the fridge.
- Move to the table with the bag of chips.
- How about eating snacks from a bowl?
- Then put the snacks in a large bowl, then a medium one, then a small one.
- How about setting out a napkin?
- You might need all these steps to reach your mindfulness practice goal of sitting at the table with your food.
- Each step is an improvement over the one before.
- Don’t discount the small steps.
Other mindfulness practices
What would you like to work on? Here are a few more to get you practicing!
- Sit at the table when you eat.
- Have gratitude for your meal.
- Eliminate distractions. Just eat.
- Bring other senses to the table like smell and sight.
- No judgment. If you are eating cake, enjoy every bite!
- Practice positive self-talk.
- Practice positive affirmations.
- Recognize when you have stopped an urge or craving.
- Recognize and congratulate yourself for all NSVs which stands for non-scale victories.
- Recognize and congratulate yourself for bringing Kaisen into your life.
What mistakes are we making?
- We don’t have patience, one of the first and most important factors of mindfulness. We are impatient to get on to the next bite, the next meal, the next activity. We rush. We don’t slow down.
- We think that mindfulness is something out there and that we have to set aside a time and a place for it. NO! Just be present.
- Whether it is brushing your teeth or your granddaughter’s hair, be present with what you are doing. Notice what you are doing. Think about it.
- As you start to practice mindfulness with everyday things, this will transfer to where you need it, while you are eating.
- Another mistake is that we don’t approach mindfulness with curiosity. I bet most of you have already made up your minds along the lines of, “This won’t work,” “This is malarky,” “I have no time for this.” Put all that aside and just be curious about it. Instead think, “I wonder if this will work?” “I wonder if it really takes up too much time?” or “I wonder if it will make any difference?”
- We don’t trust ourselves or the process.
- It’s a lot of I can’t do this, or that is stupid.
- Let the doubt go, embrace curiosity and accept that you actually might be surprised with the results.
- And the biggest mistake is we don’t just start with the easy stuff.
- Put your fork down.
- Don’t have two bites in your mouth at the same time.
ACTIONABLE COACHING ADVICE
- Practice developing your own mindfulness practices.
- Set up a worksheet (or use index cards) to examine the practices you would like to work on and steps you will need.
- Take a page in your journal or use a plain piece of paper or an index card:
- Make three columns.
- The first one says Mindfulness Practice.
- The second one asks a question with two possible answers:
- Am I able to do it right now?
- If the answer is YES, then do it!
- If the answer is NO, then work on a third column.
- The third column asks: What steps do I need to take?
- Am I able to do it right now?
- Play with this a little bit. One of my clients found that the best practice was being mindful of the way her husband eats his meal. He is a slow poke and she decided she was not going to finish before him. That’s one of my favorites, and I do it too.
- With this as her umbrella goal she put everything else into practice: putting her fork down between bites, chewing, swallowing and breathing.
- You don’t have to do everything at once, but it becomes natural to move on to the next goal once you are comfortable with what you are doing.
- Make sure to give yourself a little pat on the back when you have achieved any one of the steps. I think if you put your fork down between bites you deserve an award!
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, Mindfulness Practices for Better Eating, and I hope it will help you navigate your journey. Don't forget to subscribe to the mailing list (below) so that you don't miss the next one!
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