According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, but more than half the time, we are doing something else while eating. We can usually find ourselves scrolling through our phones or computers, watching a show on TV, driving, working or reading while we are eating.
Due to the lack of concentration on just eating, we are not fully aware of what we are eating, let alone enjoying the taste of the food we are consuming. Often, eating becomes a mindless act done very quickly due to the fast-paced society that we live in.
So what does mindfulness even mean, and how can we begin to practice it? Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique,” as described by the University of California-Santa Barbara.
We can first start mindfulness even before eating. Before going to the grocery store, write down a list of what you need. Making a list of foods before going to a grocery store allows you to mindfully think more about the health benefit of foods rather than impulse buy foods that you see on the shelves.
Before sitting down for your meal, try removing distracting factors around you such as TV, reading, being on your phone, etc. Try focusing only on your meal and reflect how the food makes you feel. During a meal, we tend to lose touch with our senses as well.
During your next meal, use all five senses to soak up all that food has to offer aside from taste. This includes the smell, texture, color and even sounds the food makes when you eat it.
Another tip to mindfully eat is chewing the food thoroughly. Chewing the food allows the flavors to be released in the mouth. Try chewing at least 20 times before swallowing and see if you notice a difference in the taste of the food. Chewing more at meals allows for you to eat slowly, which in turn can allow you to feel full. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize that you are full.
When we eat quickly, we are not giving the body enough time for the fullness signal to be triggered. Becoming more mindful with eating can also help you recognize your body’s physical hunger and fullness cues. Over time, you can learn to differentiate between emotional and true physical hunger, which is hard to recognize when we mindlessly eat.
It can be difficult to include all of these tips during a meal, so start out slowly by picking one of these to work on and continue to add them into your day-to-day routine. Over time, you will learn to be more in-tune with your body.
Laura Pietig, RD, LD, is a St. Luke’s Clinical Dietitian.