Mindful Eating: what dieting can’t teach you

Most people have tried at least a handful of diets or programs to lose weight or improve their health. Problem is, many people have been on one diet or another for so long that they no longer know how to eat without the rules and numbers that they’re trying to adhere to. This would be fine, if it worked. But it doesn’t. Ironically, the people that struggle with their weight the most are the ones that always seem to be on a diet.

It can be scary to do away with diets and the rules that come along with them. We are left to answer some intimidating questions:

How do I know what and when to eat?

How do I know when to stop?

If I don’t have rules, will I just go off the rails and eat everything in sight?

That’s where the skill of mindful eating comes in. Mindful eating teaches you how to tune into your own body for information on when and how much to eat, rather than relying on external cues. 

Your body is the best nutritionist you have, if you listen to it.

What is mindful eating? 

Mindful eating can mean a whole host of things, but I usually define it using these 3 characteristics:

  1. Eating while undistracted. Yes, that’s right, just eating. Not eating while driving or watching TV or browsing Facebook, but being fully present with your food.

  2. Eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly before swallowing. This prevents overeating, allows you to feel when you’re truly satiated, and improves digestion. You might actually taste your food when you do this!

  3. Eating according to hunger. This means eating when you’re physically hungry, not because you’re bored, stressed, or because people around you are eating. It also means stopping when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.

What you gain from practicing this skill:

You stop overeating, naturally: Most people are overeating simply because they’re not paying attention. How many times have you downed an entire bag of Doritos in front of the TV? When your focus is elsewhere, you are disconnected from your body’s satiety signals causing you to overeat. Additionally, you may not fully taste your food, minimizing the psychological satisfaction of eating and therefore causing you to eat more.

You feel satiated on less food: It takes a good 20-30 minutes after eating for our stomach to send signals to the brain telling us that we’re full. Since our fast-paced culture promotes eating as much as you can in 5 minutes, eating quickly causes you to eat way more than you need before you even begin feeling full. When you slow down and take your time, you can accurately guage when it’s time to stop without overeating.

Your digestion improves: Chewing is so underestimated! Many people agonize over which foods are making their bellies angry, when oftentimes is not the gluten, dairy, or nuts that are to blame. Rather, they’re just not chewing properly. Our saliva contains enzymes that help break down food, especially carbs. When you skip this first step of digestion by swallowing large pieces of food, your gut has to pick up that slack. This leaves you feeling bloated and gassy.

You will know if your diet is working or not: There’s nothing wrong with trying to hit a calorie goal or following a program. However, when you ignore your internal cues you miss out on valuable information about how your body is responding to the program. If you find yourself too full or too hungry on a regular basis, it may be time to adjust it. Also, a strict diet can’t account for the day to day fluctuations in caloric needs. Your daily needs will vary depending on your activity level, sleep, stress, and time of the month for women. No diet can tell you how to adjust for this, but your body will let you know every time.

You have a tool that you can use anytime, anywhere, for the rest of your life. We don’t always have control over the food we eat or the quality of it, such as when going to a dinner party, eating out, or when travelling. Regardless of circumstances you can almost always eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and eat according to hunger.

Mindful eating isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

This practice forces you to be present with not only your food, but all the emotional experiences that come along with it. It requires you to stop numbing out around food and find better ways to deal with stress, boredom, and other triggering feelings. It’s not easy, and it takes time to learn, but it sets you up for a lifetime of healthy eating in the most natural way possible.