Mindful eating: Healthy habits

Have you found yourself rushing to get out the door and grabbing something to eat on the fly without even thinking twice about it? Or when was the last time you simply ate lunch without texting, chasing after children or engaging in conversation?

If you nodded your head and this sounds familiar, rest assured you aren’t alone, because eating without awareness is a very common habit. Our eating rituals have developed over time due to our busy lifestyles and the process of thinking before we pop food into our mouths has taken a back seat.

The good news is we can kick old habits and learn to be mindful about what we eat. Mindful eating is a simple-to-learn life skill. It can lead people to develop a healthy, satisfying and enjoyable relationship with food. “Mindful or meditative eating simply means being aware of what you’re putting into your mouth,” says Psychologist, Kellee Waters from Fitmindsandbodies.com. “It’s about pausing to really taste your food and listen to your body’s cues. We should all eat whenever we’re hungry and stop as soon as we’re full, but instead we get hung-up on habits and rules.”

Furthermore, there is good evidence to show that being mindful when eating helps us manage our waist lines. Middle-aged women who eat slowly are much less likely to be overweight or obese than those who eat at a faster pace, according to University of Otago research, Sept 2011.

Ever felt like reaching for the nearest block of chocolate when the kids are stressing you out? Mindfulness can also help curb emotional eating. More often than not, people tend to react mindlessly to unrecognized or unexamined triggers, thoughts and feelings, using food as a perceived reward.

Dr Susan Albers (Clinical Psychologist and mindful eating expert) helps to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional eating. When thinking about eating something, ask yourself, “How physically hungry am I on a scale from 1-10 (1=starving, 5=satisfied, 10=stuffed)?  If you are a 1-5, it’s likely that you do need something to eat. If you answer 6-10, it’s likely that food isn’t going to help you.

Next time you are in this situation, try eating a mandarin. They are a great food to help curb emotional eating and to de-stress (not to mention in season now during the colder months). Mandarins are easy to peel and the segments are perfectly portioned to eat one at a time, mindfully. The sweet flavour is satisfying and research has shown that citrus aromas can be calming. A mandarin gives a little boost of vitamin C. Just what you need when stressed or emotional.

Other mindful eating tips include putting down your cutlery between every bite, and halfway through a meal. Pausing to take five deep breaths encourages you to remain in the present. Be honest with yourself about how close you are to feeling full, and stop long before you’re uncomfortable or need to ‘undo a top button,’ so to speak.

By being mindful, you are then able to observe your thoughts and make a choice about how you will respond. As opposed to reacting mindlessly, mindfulness gives you the opportunity to respond appropriately. That is how mindful eating empowers you to finally break old eating habits and discover options that work better for you.

Further reading

  1. https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au – Mindful eating fact sheet
  2. http://www.ifnotdieting.com.au/cpa/htm/htm_article_list.asp?id=11
  3. http://www.fitmindsandbodies.com/
  4. http://eatingmindfully.com/tools/
  5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-susan-albers/hunger_b_7168958.html
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