Most diets focus only on the quality and quantity of the foods we eat, but I'm here to tell you that it's also important to pay attention to the where and how. Mindless eating in front of the fridge, over the sink, or on the couch can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to portion control. So slow down and try these tips to make each meal a more mindful one this holiday season!
1. Practice the table, plate, and chair approach.
Aim to eat mindfully from a plate and while seated at a table without distractions. This applies to meals, snacks, treats, and even binges. This practice increases the enjoyment of meals and can naturally decrease portions because it slows your pace and allows you to fully recognize feelings of satiety.
2. Try the hunger gauge, and learn the difference between physical hunger and psychological hunger.
Deciphering between head hunger and real hunger is important as you focus on listening to your body's signals. It's a skill that takes practice, but being able to differentiate between different types of hunger is a positive sign that you're reconnecting with your body and nourishing it appropriately. Once you recognize true hunger, you'll be able to determine where you are on the spectrum of hunger and guide your choices accordingly.
Think of your stomach as a gas tank. On empty, we are the hungriest we have ever felt. At full, we are so stuffed that we can't imagine eating another bite. When you feel true hunger (belly rumbling or slight empty feeling in your stomach) you are at one-fourth of a tank and it's time to have a meal or snack. This is the best time to eat because your body is physically telling you that it needs nourishment but you also are not too hungry to wait 15 or 20 minutes if needed, to find a healthy and balanced choice. At this level of hunger your eating speed will be slower and you can be mindful of your fullness cues.
As you eat, slow down and savor each bite. Recognize when you hit half a tank, this is when hunger feelings are gone. Four to five bites later, you will hit three-quarters of a tank and it's time to finish eating, no matter how much food is left on your plate. At this point you will feel a slight fullness in your stomach, and it will be obvious that food is in there but not enough to feel bloated or heavy.
3. Take note of your pace.
You may be familiar with the idea that it takes about 20 minutes for your body to recognize that you are full. This is because the body only has a few hormones and enzymes that signal hunger, but a whole host of physical and chemical signals that tell the brain when it's full. These signals start to be released as soon as we begin to eat, but it takes a long time for the brain to consciously register fullness. When we eat too quickly we often realize that if we had just slowed down and had a little more patience, we could have stopped eating much earlier and been perfectly satisfied. In other words, we drive right past "no longer hungry" and arrive at "uncomfortably full." But when we slow down we give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy our food more and recognize when we are satisfied.
4. Set yourself up for success in social situations.
Pace yourself with the slowest eater in the group when dining with your friends or family. It's also important to limit distractions while you eat, especially technology. In the middle of a meal—when the food is halfway gone—put down your utensils, stretch, make conversation, and check in with yourself to gauge how hungry you still are (if at all). Don't just assume you need to clean the plate.
5. Practice these physical habits while eating.
Put less food on each forkful and chew each bite more thoroughly. Aim for a specific number of chews; I recommend 30. Put your fork down between bites, swallow the food you are currently chewing before filling your utensil with the next bite, and have a sip of water in between them. You can even experiment with eating using your nondominant hand or a pair of chopsticks; this forces you to focus and makes you more aware of how quickly you tend to eat.
6. Describe each food you are eating in detail.
Whether it is in your head, out loud to a dining partner, or even on paper, make note of the texture, taste, smell, and temperature of your food. This is a great exercise in mindful eating and forces you to take a little bit more time on each bite.
7. Create a healthy home.
Modify your home and workspace to make healthy choices easier and unhealthy choices more difficult. The cue to eat should be from physical hunger instead of the presence of food, others eating around you, or emotions like stress, loneliness, boredom, or the desire for comfort.
With these seven tips for mindful eating, you will train yourself to appreciate your food, create a healthier environment, and transform each meal into a complete experience that engages your full attention and all five of your senses.