Of all my self-care practices, mindful eating by far is the hardest one for me. No matter how much I practice, it is something I have to focus on day in and day out. Last year I went on a ten day silent retreat. As I was preparing to go, I thought about the fact that I was going to have 30 meals with no talking and no distractions. This was the perfect opportunity to up my mindful eating game.
While I was on the retreat I did amazing. I chewed my food completely. I put my fork down between every bite. I didn’t feel the normal pressure to finish every bite on my plate. I was a mindful eating rockstar! I am ashamed to say that sadly it didn’t last. I came home and fell into my old habits until I had literally had enough.
I have used these strategies on and off for years, but now that I have been using them religiously I see a big difference in my relationship with food.
Mindful eating is not about guilt or deprivation. It’s about listening to the signals of your body and allowing them to guide you. These are my best tips for success, and what I am doing day in and day out to make food freedom a reality in my life.
Do a body scan before you eat
I realize that I hold tension in my body before I begin a meal, and this causes me to eat really fast. When I pause before I eat to take a few deep breaths and notice where the tension is in my body so I can release it, I eat much slower from the onset of my meal.
Bless your food
I didn’t grow up saying grace, but it is a lovely tradition. Our food doesn’t just appear on our plates. It takes Mother Nature, farmers, truck drivers, grocery check out clerks, and someone (probably us!) to cook the food for us to eat. By taking a mindful moment to express gratitude for our meal, we can appreciate how it is nourishing our body.
I usually say something like “I love my food, and my food loves me.”
The upside is that it is hard to bless junk food, so you also give yourself time to get out of a situation you may not feel 100% about!
Do you actually like what you are eating?
If I am eating something that I consider a splurge, like a dessert or fries, I take a bite and decide if I truly like it, and if it is worth it for me to continue eating it. I may eat one cold, mushy fry and say “no way, totally not worth it.” On the other hand I may taste a bite of heavenly, decadent cake and decide that savoring a few bites is what I want to do. And there is no beating myself up involved.
Are you really hungry, or is it something else?
Snacking can be habitual. Maybe we always have a snack when our kids do, or always at 3:00 pm or always while watching TV after dinner. Just because we have created this habit, it doesn’t mean we can’t break it!
Paying attention to the signals our body gives us around hunger can help to break these habits. Hunger comes on slowly and builds, where as cravings come on strong and fast.
I heard a tip from a nutritionist recently that really clicked. She said to use the fruit rule. If you feel hungry and would be willing to have fruit, you are most likely legitimately hungry. However, if the only thing you’d be willing to eat is a bowl of ice cream or cookies, you are having a craving.
Appreciate what you are eating
I have eaten so quickly that I don’t even remember tasting my food. My plate was clear, but I kind of missed the meal. It reminds me of the feeling when you drive somewhere and you barely remember making the turns.
If you can describe the flavors of your meal and the texture of what your are eating, even in your head, you are most likely eating at a mindful pace.
You don’t have to say no to foods if you eat them slowly, only when you truly want them, and stop when you feel satisfied instead of stuffed.
Put your fork down between bites
It sounds simple, but when you really become aware of this, you may notice that you are already preparing your next bite of food on your fork before you finish what’s in your mouth. This can make you feel rushed and cause you to swallow before you’ve really had a chance to chew your food well.
Slowing down in this way can also help you realize when you are full. If you are shoveling your food, and feeling like you have to clean your entire plate, you may miss your body telling you that it’s full, and all of a sudden you are overstuffed.
When I take the time to prepare healthy food for the week on Sunday I notice a huge difference in how I eat all week long. I call it my “Sunday Prep.” I take one hour to cook things like lentils, quinoa, oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, mason jar salads, and roasted veggies that I can put together in different ways to make healthy meals all week.
Having your fridge stocked with healthy options makes it much easier to make mindful choices.
I hope that these suggestions serve you and help you to make mindful eating a reality in your life. Drop the diets and the struggle around food, and let your body guide you to food freedom.
Get my “Sunday Prep,” 6 best tips for how to prepare for a stress-free week as a free gift at www.hotmesstomindfulmom.com