Have you ever wondered how some people seem to eat “whatever they want” and can still manage to feel great and full of energy? Sometimes eating better doesn’t have to do as much with the actual food as it does with our habits and routines around eating.
Most of us in North America are accustomed to fitting our meals into our busy life. We feel like eating mindfully, as we might on vacation, is not realistic day to day, especially with work, busy families, and all our other daily distractions.
But how you eat is more important than you think. Have you noticed that kids seem to be really good at this? They use their natural instincts and eat when they’re hungry and leave food on their plate when they’re not. It’s time to reconnect and listen to what our bodies are telling us. Here are seven simple ideas to help you get started.
Use the STOP System
If we’re getting the urge to eat at a time other than mealtime, we sometimes think that we’re “deciding” we want to eat, but it’s really coming from an emotional rather than physical need. The most common triggers are sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, stress or even just boredom. If we stop (S), take a breath (T), and observe how we feel (O) before we proceed (P), we can learn to tune into and be better listeners of our body’s actual hunger signals.
Eat off a Plate or Bowl with Cutlery
Does this sound obvious? Yes, but think about how many times you have eaten out of a bag or container! A beautiful presentation is a part of enjoying your food, so, get into the habit of placing even snacks on a plate before eating them. This also helps you to take notice of exactly what and how much you’re actually eating.
Also, acknowledge the time, effort and passion you put into creating your meal. Consider the ingredients, preparation and intention involved in getting the food presented on your plate!
Sit at a Table
NOTE: a desk is not a table!
In addition to eating from a plate, it’s also important to always sit at a table. This helps to pull your attention back to your food and to your eating habits. It has also been shown to dramatically reduce overeating – especially for those who tend to eat in front of the TV or at their computer.
I can’t tell you how many times I have emptied a plate beside my computer without even remembering eating the food!
Yes, this means no computer, TV, phone, etc. Food is meant to be enjoyed. So, if eating is an enjoyable activity for you, why deny yourself the pleasure by putting your attention on something else like your social media, a movie or an email?
Designate the first few minutes of your meal for a quiet, mindful practice.
Chew Your Food
Most of us have heard this from a parent at some point in our childhood, and there is a good reason for it. Chewing our food helps us to break it down so that we can gain the nutritional benefits from it. It also helps us to slow down.
Slowing down is one of the easiest and most effective ways we can get our body and mind to coordinate their signals of what we really need for nutritional purposes. The body actually sends its “I’m full!” signal about 20 minutes after you eat. So if we slow down, we can give our body a chance to catch up to our brain, hear the signals properly, and eat the right amount.
Chewing more, and more slowly, is probably THE simplest and most effective way to begin developing the habit of eating mindfully.
Put Down Your Fork and Look Around Between Bites
Putting your fork down between bites of food reinforces your enhanced chewing habit, rather than mindlessly picking at your plate or preparing to shovel in your next bite. And it gives you the opportunity to really taste and enjoy your food!
Pro tip: when you put your fork down, look around rather than at your plate so that you can enjoy your food rather than focusing on the next bite.
Make it more difficult to feed yourself
Making things more difficult is a great way to force yourself to pay attention and be more intentional about eating.
Ideas to up this challenge are to eat with your non-dominant hand, use chopsticks or choose food that takes work to eat such as pistachios or shellfish in the shell. While this may seem tedious, try one of these for one meal or snack a day.
Your whole body will benefit from simply slowing down, and being more intentional and present while eating. Which of the seven actionable tips will you start with?