What is mindful eating?
Are you really hungry?
What does mindful eating mean?
You’ve probably heard of the term mindful eating, but what does it actually mean, and why bother doing it? Mindful eating is about checking whether you’re really hungry, and if so, eating slowly, enjoying each mouthful and watching for signs you’ve had enough so you don’t overeat. What it’s not? Gulping food quickly in front of the television or computer, or shovelling down a meal because it’s midday and you always eat then. Another thing mindful eating’s not is scoffing a bag of chips when you’re bored or angry, then looking at the empty bag, wondering how that ‘just happened’.
The benefits of mindful eating
It’s easy to eat mindlessly during a busy day, says Melbourne-based psychologist, Dr Naomi Crafti, but making an effort to eat mindfully has many weight-loss benefits, including promoting a healthier, less angst-ridden relationship with food. Case in point: a 2011 University of California study published in Journal of Obesity found overweight women who used simple mindful eating techniques lost abdominal fat without dieting.
“We live in a world where so many of us get anxious about what we eat so we don’t enjoy our food,” says Dr Crafti. “If you eat and enjoy the experience, however, you probably won’t overeat. Unfortunately, we just don’t allow ourselves the time to eat respectfully. In Japanese culture, for example, people never sit in their car and eat or walk along the street eating. They sit at a table, focus on their food and enjoy it – they eat mindfully.”
How to become a mindful-eating master
Psychotherapist Jane Caulfield lost 40 kilograms by eating mindfully and now teaches the technique to others. She says it helps people recognise triggers in daily life that cause unnecessary eating. “Mindful eating doesn’t occur overnight. You learn at each step,” says Caulfield. Start with one mindful mouthful a day, then one mindful bite every mealtime, advises Dr Crafti. Gradually increase to several mindful mouthfuls each time you eat, until you’re mindfully eating whenever you have a meal or snack. Not only will you appreciate food more, you may notice a shift in the scales, too.
The basics to mindful eating
• Stop and check that you’re actually hungry – and that you’re not just eating out of habit or because you’re upset or happy.
• Drink some water before a meal to avoid mistaking thirst for hunger.
• Use your senses – smell the aromas of the food you’re eating, and notice the temperatures, textures and flavours in your mouth.
• Chew slowly and make the most of every bite. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register fullness, after you’ve eaten.
• Cut out distractions like eating in front of the TV or the computer.
• Have a little of what you want so you feel satisfied, then stop.
• Be in the moment while you’re eating, rather than thinking about what happened yesterday or what your plans are for tomorrow.