What is mindful eating? Benefits & how it works (2)

Read the first part of the article

Emotional & mindless eating

The flip side of mindful eating is mindless eating. When you aren’t bringing consciousness or attention to your relationship with food, you’re more likely to eat on autopilot. And in a toxic food culture, that usually leads to some pretty unhealthy choices.

Mindless eating often opens the door wide to its close relative, emotional eating, which involves using food to fill emotional needs, rather than nutritional ones. While all of us use food to make ourselves feel better on occasion, when emotional eating becomes the default (and often only) way we can tend to our feelings, we lose the ability to recognize and address genuine psychological needs.

Stress eating is a good example. Unless the sole cause of your stress is physical hunger, eating will not resolve the stress. Worry, upset, anger, loneliness, exhaustion, and boredom can feel intolerable. And most of us learn quite early in life that ice cream and cookies and fries can distract us from those feelings, at least for a short while. If that becomes your go-to strategy, however, you’ll almost certainly overeat. Because you’ll need to keep stimulating your taste buds to override the unwanted emotional state – regardless of whether you’re hungry or not.

Emotional eating not only leads you to make poor food choices, and overeat on those choices, it also prevents you from recognizing and tending to your true needs. And ironically, it may actually make the problems worse. If you’ve ever eaten for emotional reasons, felt remorse for what and how much you ate, and then started beating yourself up for messing up and not having more willpower, you’re familiar with that vicious cycle. The more you overeat, the worse you feel. The worse you feel, the stronger the urge to self-medicate with more junk food. Eventually, this can even spiral into anxiety and depression.

Strategies to move away from mindless eating

Is there a way out from the grip of mindless, emotional eating? The answer, fortunately, is yes. One way is to proactively identify other strategies to transform your mood and your state – and commit to practicing them.

Here are a few examples:
• If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who often makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.

  • If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
  • Exhausted? Treat yourself to a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, crocheting, scrapbooking, etc.).
  • And if you do decide to eat, commit to begin eating mindfully, savoring the aromas, flavors, and textures of whatever you’re eating. By paying full attention to the experience, you may discover that you don’t need to eat nearly as much as you thought you did to start feeling better.

How to be more mindful when you eat

It’s easy to say “be mindful!”. But the problem with that is, you kind of have to be mindful to remember to be mindful. Especially when the behavior is eating, which as we’ve seen is often an automatic process triggered by cues outside of our conscious awareness. One way to escape this trap is to create habits and rituals around eating that you commit to, so they become the new defaults.

– gratitude

One such ritual that has stood the test of time in many cultures is a gratitude prayer or blessing at the beginning of a meal. Just taking a few seconds to acknowledge appreciation for the food and the many hands that make it possible can reduce cravings, alleviate stress, and bring your attention to the qualities of the food in front of you. If you’re with others, you can take a few moments to “say grace” together.

– tune in to your body

Another useful habit to deploy before eating is to get in touch with your body. Take a moment to notice your posture, your breathing, your emotional state, and your energy level. Now bring that body awareness into your mouth, and direct it toward the process of chewing and swallowing. Use all your senses. Practicing this will help you identify foods that serve your physical body – and those that undermine its functioning.

Commit to eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly. Since your main “I’m full stop eating” signal comes from stretch receptors in your stomach, if you’re eating a mile a minute, you can still feel hungry after consuming way more food than your stomach can comfortably hold. By the time your stomach starts registering fullness, you might actually be really uncomfortable. Instead, eating slowly allows you to recognize and act on satiety signals in a timely manner, thus avoiding overeating.

turn off & put away distractions

Make a rule to turn off and put away potential distractions during meal times. Avoid TV, your cellphone, laptops, tablets, and newspapers while you’re eating. If you usually eat on the sofa in front of the TV, how would it feel to switch locations to reduce the pull of conditioned habit?

take stock of triggers

Finally, use the space you create by eating slowly and mindfully to notice your motivations for eating. Ask yourself: “Why am I choosing to eat at this moment?” You may discover that you’re bored, or feeling another emotion or physical state you want to move away from. You may realize that some external cue triggered you: the time, the location, a particular aroma. Perhaps you’re actually not hungry, but thirsty. Take stock, and you’ll soon get better at distinguishing true hunger from all the other reasons you might eat.

Recipes to enhance your experience

Now, it’s time to practice being present with a variety of meals and snacks (yes, snacks can be mindful). Start with a mindful morning as you make and enjoy your flavorful and satisfying, for exemple, Breakfast Burrito. Appreciate the naturally sweet and savory (and oil-free!) Balsamic-Glazed Sweet Potato Fries. Have fun snacking on the crunchy, loaded Apple Nachos Supreme. Use all of your senses as you travel on a tasting journey with the Raw Chocolate Orange Pudding. And, sip, savor, and feel the warmth of the Turmeric Milk as the healing spices soothe your body. Finally, take some deep, long breaths in between meals and send gratitude to all of the ingredients that made your meals delicious and healthful.

  1. Breakfast burritos

Many people eat breakfast on-the-go, as we’re preparing the kids for school, getting ready for work, or squeezing it in before or after exercise. Use this nourishing and flavorful tofu burrito to practice presence and mindfulness with every step – from cutting the vegetables to cooking the potatoes to assembling the burrito. Then, sit down to eat it, savoring each bite. Eat slowly, and notice if you get full faster than usual because you’re taking your time. You just might have leftovers for lunch!

  1. Balsamic-Glazed Sweet Potato Fries

You can easily snack mindfully when you skip the fried and processed foods and enjoy nutrient-dense, whole plant-foods instead. These oil-free Balsamic-Glazed Sweet Potato Fries shine on their own with their natural sweetness and perfectly baked texture. They make a great companion for your favorite veggie burger, too!

  1. Apple Nachos Supreme

If you love snacking on sweet and crunchy then this may be your future go-to snack of choice. And this sweet and crunchy snack won’t leave you wanting more. By taking your time and noticing each crunch while savoring the natural sweetness, you’ll allow the fiber in the apples and popcorn to fill you up before you’re ready for a second helping. That’s what we call healthy, smart, and mindful snacking.

  1. Raw Chocolate Orange Pudding

Have you ever tasted chocolate using all of your senses? The flavor seems to increase exponentially when you do! Here’s how: Starting with your eyes, notice the deep, rich chocolate-y color of the pudding. Moving to your nose, smell the aroma of pure cacao (close your eyes while doing this to make the experience even more delightful). Then, taste the pudding by letting the chocolate dissolve in your mouth while feeling the silky soft texture of the avocado. Finally, reflect on your sensory experience, and try it with other foods you love!

  1. Turmeric Milk

The experience of making turmeric tea can be mindful in and of itself. As you add each spice, notice the beautiful colors, the subtle aromas, and the color they form as they blend together. Before you sip, close your eyes and take three deep long breaths, counting to five as you inhale and counting to five as you exhale. Now, sip, savor, and feel the warmth of the healing nutrients as they move through you.

When you bring consciousness and care to any relationship, it becomes richer and more meaningful. And this includes your relationship with food! Slowing down and paying attention with mindful eating doesn’t just transform how you eat. It might also transform what kinds of foods you’re drawn to. Your body has tremendous wisdom, because it is created by God. And sometimes, if you slow down a bit, you become better able to heed it.


January 16, 2022


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