As we relax on Labor Day, one tradition stands out among the rest: barbecues. Picnic tables piled high with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and coolers full of icy beverages. Of course, today’s celebration is often followed by tomorrow’s regrets as we start to wonder if that fourth hamburger was really necessary. If you’re looking to enjoy your food more and skip the regret, mindfulness can be an incredibly effective tool.
How often have you started snacking and before you know it, you’ve finished that bag of chips or that sleeve of cookies? You remember nothing of the experience other than the vague memory of your hand meeting your mouth. This kind of mindless eating is prevalent today, especially as we hunker down to binge a series on Netflix with snacks in hand. Often we begin eating and get distracted, disconnected from the experience, and the sensations of eating become secondary. Now think of that Labor Day barbecue, surrounded by friends and family, having a great time – how much attention is being paid to your body’s responses to hunger and satisfaction? One way to combat this is called “mindful eating,” an evidence-based way to reduce binge eating and overeating that draws on the mindfulness tradition.
Eating mindfully means eating food deliberately and appreciating all of the sensations that come with it. When we are mindful we are actively living in the moment and open to the situation we are experiencing. Mindful eating involves awareness of the emotions, feelings, and thoughts occurring while we eat. Attention is turned to the tactile and sensory experience of eating: the smells, tastes, textures, and temperatures of food. Equal attention is paid to the mind while eating, focusing on when we become distracted and the impulses we feel after those first few bites. The goal of mindful eating is to regain freedom in eating and to improve our relationship with food.
Here are a few ways to practice mindful eating:
Don’t go in for another bite until you’ve finished your first. Count the seconds you chew and see how long you can go before swallowing. Slowing down will help you appreciate the different flavors and textures, as well as make the food easier to digest. Deliberately slow down a meal by putting down your fork to tell a story or take a few sips of a drink. Try pacing yourself with others around you. Take notice of who is eating fastest and slowest andim to be on par with the slowest one.
Take smaller mindful bites:
Pay attention to your senses as you eat. Take a deep breath and smell the food in front of you. Feel the different textures of everything you eat as well as the temperatures. Eating feels better when it becomes a multi-sensory experience. A good way to implement this is to spark up conversation about how the food tastes with friends and family. Get everyone to focus more on what is right in front of them. Additionally, try taking smaller bites. Taking a smaller bite of food will naturally prevent the food from disappearing as fast as well as give you more time to savor whatever you’re eating.
Only eat–don’t do anything else:
Try to eliminate all distractions to pay full attention to the plate of food in front of you. Turn off cell phones, televisions, etc. It may be difficult at a barbecue surrounded by friends, but try to eat in silence. Sit down with your food where you can focus on just what’s in front of you. Multitasking inhibits concentration, boosting consumption.
Use smaller plates and bowls:
Our perception of appropriate portions is often skewed when we pack a ton of food on our plates. Additionally, we may easily start scarfing down loads of food mindlessly if we see a mountain of food in front of us. Try using a smaller plate or bowl than you would normally use. Visually a smaller plate will look much fuller than a larger plate with an appropriate serving size. In a 2006 study, which showed that using smaller bowls helps control the urge to over-serve, researchers stated, “While 4 ounces of food on an 8-ounce plate might look like a good helping, 4 ounces on a 10-ounce plate could seem skimpy.”
If you’re looking to control your eating habits and health but aren’t seeing new progress with the latest fitness class or fad diet, try mindful eating. It takes effort to recognize and break old habits, but once you do your meals will be much more satisfying, memorable, and smaller.