Most Americans eat on autopilot, often while performing other tasks on their jam-packed schedules. You grab breakfast on the go, wolf down lunch while responding to emails and eat dinner while watching TV or cheering on your kid’s Little League team.
You might think you’re being productive, but the truth is you’re making it more difficult to squeeze into your jeans (among other negative consequences).
Not only is such mindless eating bad for your health and waistline, it also deprives you of one of life’s great pleasures: Food! Rather than strive to eat efficiently — shoveling in as much food as you can, as quickly as possible — mindful eating anchors you in the moment so you can derive more enjoyment from your meals. You also eat less to boot!
Not sure how to get started? Here are five tips for slowing down and focusing on your food:
- Beware of environmental cues. Portion sizes have ballooned in recent decades and options for a quick food fix are seemingly limitless. You might inadvertently grab a handful of M&Ms from your colleague’s desk, sample spaghetti sauce while you’re cooking and nosh on your kids’ left over mac and cheese or half-eaten cookies. Instead, nix mindless eating by writing down everything you put in your mouth BEFORE you nibble. And, to minimize portion distortion, swap standard 11-inch plates for 9-inch salad plates. When dining out, order from the appetizer menu (or ask for a doggie bag when you order and pack half your meal to eat later).
- Sit at a table. It’s shocking how many people miss this critical step for mindfulness, choosing instead to eat on the road, while doing chores and perhaps most commonly, while working at a desk.
- Limit distractions. Sometimes you can’t get away from eating lunch at your desk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t control your environment. Before you eat, silence your cell phone, disable instant messaging and put your computer to sleep.
- Breathe deeply. Before you eat, close your eyes, tune into your body and take a few deep breaths. Engaging your breathing helps you pay attention to what’s happening internally (thoughts, emotions and physical sensations) as well as externally. Slow your breath. Breathe in for a count of three, hold your breath, then breathe out for a count of six. When your thoughts wander — and they will — don’t berate yourself. Just acknowledge the diversion and bring your attention back to each breath.
- Practice mindfulness. Before you take your first bite, stop, smell and make a commitment to savor your food. Say grace, ring a bell or enjoy a moment of silence. Whatever you choose, take a few minutes to appreciate the food in front of you. Pay attention to all five senses. Notice the intense red color of your tomato, hear the crunch of a raw carrot, smell the pungent aroma of garlic and onions sizzling in a pan, and feel the creamy texture of avocado as it slips over your tongue. If you’re gobbling a taco in two minutes flat, you’re going to miss that rich sensory experience.
While practicing mindfulness is the antidote to eating on autopilot, you don’t need to jump in at once. Start small, with one meal or daily snack, and build from there. Most importantly, make a commitment to nurture your body and soul with delicious and nutritious food. Once you do, you’ll enhance your health and feel better.
New to mindfulness? Check out our beginner’s guide to mindfulness to learn how to get started.