Learn how to be a mindful eater for life. This is the second of five articles about eating mindfully and developing a peaceful relationship with food, eating and your body, consistently becoming more attentive aware and self-compassionate.
This is part 2 of a five-part series. If you missed part 1, you can find that here. In this article, you’ll learn four of the practices of a mindful eater. In the next couple articles, you’ll learn more practices. It can take months to become consistent with one or two mindful eating practices but it will make a significant and positive difference!
4 Practices of a Mindful Eater
1. Eat When You’re Hungry
This seems like common sense, right? Yet many of us are guided to eat because we want to, not because we need to. There are so many reasons we eat: because someone wants to feed us; because we’re at a party and feel obligated; because Grandma made your favorite dessert; because it’s Friday night; because it’s the Superbowl; because it’s Sunday brunch; because a co-worker brought in a surprise snack from a local restaurant; because you’re bored; because you’re stressed; because you’re excited; because, because, because.
Imagine if the primary reason, the only reason, the essential reason you ate is because your body is truly hungry. You’ll feel lighter. You’ll be lighter. You’ll be more productive. You’ll be more focused on whatever is in front of you. You’ll face issues at hand. You’ll have more energy. You’ll feel more at peace.
One day, my sister sent me a text. At nearly 30 years old, she had an “aha” moment that the thousands of times she thought she was hungry, she actually just wanted to eat. She thought it was the same thing. It’s not and realizing the difference is a game-changer.
Put it Into Practice: Become more conscious of what’s driving you to eat.
Before, during or after you eat, ask yourself, “Am/was I hungry?” If you aren’t hungry but you want to eat, then it’s possible you’re dehydrated, bored or otherwise unsatisfied. Drink some water, go outside, play some good-feeling music and move your body.
An Extra Tip: Be gentle with yourself.
Change isn’t always a breeze. You’re not going to be perfect at first, so be self-compassionate. It may take you months or years to become super consistent at only eating when you’re hungry. You’re on the road to success when you can ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” while you’re eating. You’re successful when you can ask yourself this question regularly, before the food enters your mouth.
2. Be Aware of Your Hunger Level Throughout the Day
Mindful eating allows you to find a happy medium. The idea is: Don’t starve yourself. Don’t stuff yourself.
You know exactly what it means to be working on something and suddenly think, “Omg, I’m starving!!” And you know exactly what it feels like the moment you ate too much: “Omg, I need to lie down.”
If you check in with yourself more regularly throughout the day, you can avoid getting too hungry. When you’re too hungry, you end up choosing bad food or eating too much of whatever you had.
Don’t eat until you’re full. Eat until you’re a few bites away from full. Have the courage to stop early. You should stop eating when you still feel the energy to do light tasks. You shouldn’t be so full that you feel immobile.
Tip: Here’s a tip for you, especially if you aren’t tuned into your true hunger signals. Use the Hunger Scale. It goes from 1-10. One is characterized by light-headedness, aggravation, inability to focus and being “hangry.” 10 is like post-Thanksgiving meal stuffed. Stay between a 3 and 8 all day. Every couple hours, ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” You’ll gradually begin to learn the difference between true hunger and “wanting to eat.”
3. Be More Present When You Eat
When we give 100% of our loving, genuine attention to something, we receive the greatest pleasure and we notice and appreciate small details otherwise not seen. When we give all our focus to the morsels in our mouth, we tend to slow down and savor it. Then what happens next is that we are more satisfied and more in tune with our hunger signals. When you’re more present, you’ll eat less and feel better. You’ll remember eating and be more likely to go longer between meals.
Shut the television off. Turn off the laptop and put it away. Put your phone on silent. Leave it in the other room. Put your work and to-do list in the other room. Leave the books, magazines and any other distraction in a different place.
Tip: Dare yourself to be totally present everywhere you eat for one week. Notice the significant difference it makes in your eating experience. I swear you’ll think your tastebuds grew in number! If you order a savory soup at your favorite lunch spot, sit there like a weirdo with your laptop in your bag and your phone in your pocket and slowly sip your soup like it’s the only thing in the world you have to pay attention to for 10 minutes. See what happens when your focus has nowhere else to be, except on your eating experience.
4. Pay More Attention to What You’re Actually Eating
Pay attention to what you’re eating.
Mindful eaters can tell you what they ate after a meal. You don’t need an amazing memory. You don’t need to write it down. You don’t need to be obsessive. You just need to pay attention by noticing what’s going in your mouth and you do that by being more present, which you just read about.
Pay attention to the quality of food you’re eating.
Mindful eaters know what nutritious choices are and intentionally include more of them. Mindful eaters say no to choices that aren’t nourishing and say yes to choices that are replenishing and nutritious.
Pay attention to how much you’re eating.
Mindful eaters know how much they ate because they’re noticing and intentionally choosing. Mindful eaters know from experience what’s “too much” for them and they intentionally eat a little less next time.
Tip: Test your attention for the day by writing down everything you ate right before bedtime. Don’t write it down or track it at all during the day. Simply be present and pay attention. Then see at the end of the day if you can remember what you had. If it comes easily to you, then you’re paying super close attention. If you can’t remember, then your mind was too much elsewhere while you were eating. Aim to get gradually better over time.
Reminder: Be sure to read Part 1 and stay tuned for Parts 3, 4 and 5.
Erin Dubich is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist living in south Chicagoland. She has lost nearly 80 pounds and kept it off since 2013. She helps people to increase their energy and create a healthy relationship with food and their body through self-compassion and mindful eating. Erin is a professional speaker (since 2010), educating and inspiring people on topics specific to nutrition, wellness, and self-love. Erin has degrees in neuroscience, psychology, and dietetics, and a Masters in nutrition communication from Tufts University. Her grounded and joyful approach to life is refreshing and invigorating. You can find her beautiful and wise writing at www.erindubichnutrition.com. You can follow her on Facebook.