Mindfulness is simply the practice of being more aware, and staying present as you go about your day.  Mindfulness can be particularly helpful when it comes to our modern day struggle with food. Unlike our ancestors, our struggle with food has nothing to do with finding food, or food scarcity.  In fact the modern struggle with food is the exact opposite- every day we are bombarded with advertisements and easy access to calorie rich, nutrient poor foods. If you’re feeling hungry, you don’t even have to get out of the car to get a heavy dose of sugary drinks and processed “food.”  Eating this way is cheap, convenient, and admittedly it tastes pretty good too. So much of the way we eat is driven by habit, and that is precisely where mindfulness comes into play. Most people have a pretty unhealthy relationship with food. They may go through intense periods of restrictive eating, followed by periods of gorging out and maintaining an apathetic mindset about food.  Intuitively we know, there has to be a better way to interact with food. In this article I will outline six ways to infuse mindful practices into our relationship with what we eat.

Start a food journal.

An easy way to automatically become more mindful around eating is to start a food journal.  Logging our food serves a few purposes. First, it allows us to take an honest look at what we are putting into our body.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that we are eating better than we actually are, and the food journal sheds some light on that.  Another benefit is that we can share our food journal with a wellness professional such as a nutritionist, health coach or a doctor to gain insight and advice on where to go next.  Last, logging our food cultivates mindfulness throughout the day as we become more aware that at the end of the day, we will be logging this into our food journal. Simply knowing that a quick trip to McDonald’s, or eating that extra cupcake in the break room will be revisited later can be a powerful tool in making healthier decisions around food.

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Notice how different foods make you feel

Once again, mindfulness is simply about awareness.  Sometimes, it just comes down to paying attention to what is happening around you, or in this case, inside of you.  Begin to pay attention to how different foods make you feel. Notice the difference in your body after you eat a salad, as opposed to how you feel after eating fast food.  Try to pinpoint exactly what the difference is, and where in your body you feel the different sensations. For example, you may feel the effects of a fast food meal in your stomach.  Or, you may notice that you have more energy when you eat well. How do you feel after you eat sugar vs. a nutritious meal? Most people are so busy they never take a moment to pause and check in with their body.  Simply checking in with yourself and getting to know your own body better helps eating healthy foods become a seamless and natural part of life.

Chew your food.

Next, I want to advise you to CHEW YOUR FOOD! This goes back to our inherently busy lifestyles, and food is simply another thing that has to get done in our day.  The hungrier we are, the faster we tend to eat. This is probably the easiest thing you can begin to implement right away. Try to chew each bite for a minimum of 20-30 times.  It will take longer to eat, so plan this into your day. While you are at it, you might as well enjoy your food. Take some time to notice the textures, and the various flavors in your meal. When you are used to super salty or sweet processed food, healthier foods may seem to taste bland at first. By taking your time to notice how the food tastes, you will often notice there is more flavor than you realized when your were eating in a hurry.  Take a moment to appreciate and find gratitude for the food you are eating. Chewing your food has many benefits, including improving digestion and allowing your body to absorb more of the nutrients that you put into it.

Eat without distractions.

Another way to be more mindful when eating, is to make eating the only thing that you are doing.  Many people eat in front of the TV, at their desk, or even while driving in the car. By eating while doing other things, it is impossible to be mindful and it becomes very easy to consume excess calories.  Mindless overeating is a sure way to gain weight quickly and steadily. This also goes hand in hand with appreciating your food. It is very difficult to notice your food, how it makes you feel or how it tastes if you are catching up with the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

Slow down.

I discussed before that it is important to slow down and notice how the food makes you feel.  This includes noticing when you feel full. It is first helpful to eat slowly because it takes some time for our bodies to tell us that we are full.  The feeling of satiety is easy to miss if we are not paying attention. Many times people may not notice the sensation of being full until it is waaaay too late, and a large amount of excess calories have already been consumed.  This leads not only to weight gain, but also to a feeling of extreme discomfort that could easily be avoided with a little bit of mindfulness.

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Treat yourself!

Know that it is ok to indulge mindfully! Overly restrictive diets cause people to yo-yo back and forth between healthy eating and unhealthy eating. Treating yourself occasionally makes healthy eating sustainable and enjoyable.  The key to indulgence is to truly take the time to appreciate the food you are eating. Pause before eating something you know is unhealthy. Is this something you really want, or is it something you are consuming out of habit, without paying much attention?  Be mindful of how often you are indulging, and what the potential consequences may be. If you still want that cheesecake, then go for it. Once you make the mindful decision to treat yourself, be sure to slow down and really enjoy it. When we take control of our eating habits, it can alleviate the guilt that often causes us to give up altogether on eating well.

Eating mindfully will change your relationship with food.

By now you’ve gathered that mindful eating is not about following a particular diet, or severely restricting specific foods in the diet.  Mindful eating is about developing a healthy relationship with food by building consciousness and awareness about what we eat, and how it impacts our mind and body.  By slowing down and becoming aware of how food affects us and makes us feel, we become naturally inclined to put food in our body that is nourishing. This practice will help foster a healthier relationship between us and the food we eat, resulting in a more fit and fulfilled life.