Slowing down is one of the best ways we can get our minds and body to communicate what we really need for nutrition. The body actually sends its satiation signal for about 20 minutes, which is why we often unconsciously overeat. But, if we slow down, we can give our body a chance to catch up to our brain and hear the signals to eat the right amount. Simple ways to slow down include chewing each bite 25 times (or more) and setting your spoon down between bites.
Rather than just eating when we get emotional signals, which may be different for each of us, maybe it is stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness, or even just boredom, we can listen to our bodies. Is your stomach growling, energy low, or feeling a little lightheaded? Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is actually listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger.
Ask yourself: What are your body’s hunger signals, and what are your emotional hunger triggers?
Another way that we eat mindlessly is by wandering around looking through cabinets, eating at random times and places, rather than just thinking proactively about our meals and snacks. This slows us down for one thing but prevents us from developing healthy environmental cues about what and how much to eat, and wires our brains for new cues for eating that are not always ideal. (do you really want to create a habit to eat every time you get in the car or in other situations?) Sure, we all snack from time to time, but it can boost both your mind and body’s health, not to mention greatly helping your mood and sleep schedule to eat at consistent times and places. Yes, that means sitting down (at a table!), putting food on a plate or bowl, not eating it out of the container, and using utensils, not our hands. It also helps to eat with others, not only are you sharing and getting some healthy connection, but you also slow down and can enjoy the food and conversation more, and we take our cues from our dinner partner, not over or under-eating out of emotion.
Having a mindful kitchen means organizing and caring for your kitchen space so it encourages healthy eating and nourishing gatherings. Consider what you bring into your kitchen and where you put things away. Are healthy foods handy? What kinds of foods are in sight? When food is around, we eat it.
We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with our bag full of popcorn, and before the coming attractions are over, we are asking who ate all of our popcorn. When we are distracted, it becomes harder to listen to our body’s signals about food and other needs. With your next meal, try single-tasking and just eating, with no screens or distractions besides enjoying the company you are sharing a meal and conversation with.
So while formal mindful eating practices may be what we think of when we look back on a mindfulness course or retreat we attended, the reality is that we do live, and eat, in the real world which is a busy place. But we can take the insights gained from our formal practice- slowing down, listening to our bodies, doing one thing at a time, making even small rituals, and considering all that went into our meal on a more regular basis and bring more informal mindfulness to our daily meals.
The bottom line is to listen to the signals your body is sending to you and practice mindful eating habits.