Every day there seems to be a new diet that claims to make you lose weight, build energy, or reach some other goal. Some of the diets focus on carbs and others on protein, while some will tout the benefits of a particular food. Though some of them may offer valuable advice, they tend to focus on restricting yourself and cutting out foods. This can leave you feeling deprived and craving what you can’t have.
Another approach is mindful eating, which encompasses every aspect of what you put in your mouth and establishes a healthy relationship between you and your food. It is the opposite of eating mindlessly, which is contributing to an epidemic of obesity, disease, and environmental devastation. It means that you pay attention to what you’re eating, when you’re eating, why you’re eating, and how you’re eating. This results in you making better food choices that lead to better outcomes because your focus is on all of the foods that you can and should eat.
There are several principles involved in mindful eating:
- Eat when you are hungry. As obvious as this may seem, many of us eat for reasons other than hunger. These can include boredom, emotions (sadness, depression, loneliness, anger), external triggers like driving past a fast food establishment, smelling something you like, or seeing a commercial on TV, as well as habit (because it’s a specific time of day or because you always eat when you watch a movie). Learn to wait until your body signals that it needs food, like maybe your stomach starting to growl or your energy is getting low.
- Don’t multi-task while you’re eating. The best way to not pay attention to what you’re eating is by doing other tasks at the same time. Put away the phone or the computer, turn off the TV, close the book, and sit down at the table. Focus on the meal and enjoying the company of anyone else eating with you.
- Stop eating before you’re full. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to get the message that you’re full, so if you keep eating until your brain tells you to stop, you’ve probably eaten too much. It’s better to eat slowly and savor every bite, eating until you don’t feel hungry anymore, but stopping before you feel full. Some tips to help you with that include starting with smaller portions, keeping your plate size at 9″ or less, taking smaller bites, and putting your fork down between bites. You’ll be less likely to overeat.
- Plan your meals. Mindful eating starts before you go grocery shopping. The food you eat should be nutritious as well as delicious, centered on plants as close to their natural state as possible. This means you’ll be buying fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and healthy fats like avocado and olive oil. Meat or fish should play a much smaller role, if any. It also means you’ll avoid processed foods and shop mainly from the outer perimeter of the store. Make a shopping list based on the meals you plan to cook, as well as healthy ready-to-eat foods like fruits and nuts. Try different herbs and spices that will add flavor as well as nutritional value to your meals. An important tip is not to shop when you’re hungry, so you won’t be tempted to binge shop.
- Know what you’re eating, who prepared it, and where it came from. A typical fast-food meal contains highly processed ingredients with chemicals, preservatives, and high amounts of salt, sugar, and fat that can harm your health. Factory-farmed foods may be genetically modified or contain pesticides or antibiotics. To the extent possible, purchase foods that were grown sustainably and without harmful additives. If you choose to eat out, let it be where the food is freshly prepared with wholesome ingredients. The best meals you eat will be those that you prepare yourself, with only ingredients that you chose to use. They will contribute to your overall health, as well as the health of the planet. On the rare occasions that you choose to eat something sugary or less healthy, it will be because of a conscious decision that will be limited and not habitual.
Eating mindfully takes some effort, especially in the beginning when you are trying to break bad habits. What gradually happens, however, is that as you learn about how foods affect your health, you learn to eat so that your meals help you instead of harming you . If you want to lose weight, you’ll find that you’re already cutting out empty calories and overeating that can lead to weight gain, which will make it that much easier. Instead of “dieting” by adopting a highly restrictive or unnatural approach, you’ll instead tune into your body, what it needs and doesn’t need. You will make sure that what you eat is beneficial for your health as well as that of the planet.