Mindful Eating – Enjoying Food for Nourishment and Pleasure

Have you ever gotten really hungry and ripped open a bag of potato chips and start popping them into your mouth? A few minutes later, you are shocked to see that you ate the whole bag. If so, you know what is meant by “mindless munching.”

Mindful eating, on the other hand, is a slower, more thoughtful approach to how we eat food. This concept takes more time to comprehend and even more to fully integrate into a daily practice.

The key to a balanced approach with mindful eating is to understand that food has two equally important purposes — nourishment and pleasure, according to Sheena Quizon Gregg, registered dietitian and assistant director of the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness at the University of Alabama.

Giving ourselves full permission to eat all foods allows us to explore our body’s cravings without guilt or judgment. Balancing the intake of foods that are both nutritious for our body and pleasurable to our body can help us engage in a meaningful, mindful eating experience that ultimately leads to a healthy relationship with food,” she explained.

Mindful eating is an experience that involves taking time with our food and engaging all the senses. A mindful meal starts with stopping all other things and focusing on food and our bodies’ response.

“In mindful eating, we are fully present during our eating experience, without the distraction of a television or other interruption in order to truly savor our food in a non-judgmental way. This experience allows us to be fully aware of our eating experience and the amount that will satisfy us versus “mindless munching,” Gregg said.

Enemy No. 1 of mindful eating is the clock. Busy schedules and a fast-paced world compel us to make meal time a side show in a frenzy of multi-tasking. Smart phones don’t help either.

 “Today’s digital environment and our hectic schedules have us choosing food based on diets, diagrams, or convenience versus tapping into our internal senses and cues of what our body is actually craving at the time,” she said.

Gregg shared some tips on how to engage in mindful eating.

  • Schedule meals and snacks, just like other daily tasks. This is a good way to set aside specific time to engage in mindful eating.
  • Have foods with a variety of flavors and textures on hand at home or work. Sweet, creamy yogurts; salty, crunchy cereal mix; crisp, refreshing apples; or rich, decadent dark chocolate are some great examples. Then you can choose a food based on what you are truly craving and not just what is convenient.
  • Take time and observe. Tune in to how your senses are reacting to a meal, whether you’re feeling hungry, satisfied, tired or stressed out.
  • Don’t wait too long when you’re hungry. If we wait until we are overly hungry or ravenous, we end up choosing a food out of convenience and eating it very rapidly. Consequently, we will likely not stop eating until we are stuffed. When we address hunger in its beginning stages, it allows us to choose a food based on our cravings versus convenience.

Mindful eating is a thoughtful, deliberate approach to enjoying food for both nourishment and pleasure. It can help us to get more satisfaction from the foods we eat.

Originally published May 20, 2016