In today's day and age we lead busy, hectic lives, and therefore eating quickly and snacking on the run have become a way of life.
Eating without paying attention to what and how much we’re consuming can result in a host of much bigger health problems such as weight gain and suboptimal energy levels.
Making things more difficult is the fact that we are faced with an abundance of readily available snacks and fast foods.
In addition we also have constant distractions such as TV, computers and smart phones that distract us from the act of eating.
Read: NuSeed offers a healthy replacement for 'bad' snacking
By consciously ensuring you eat mindfully, you can slow down and restore your attention, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic activity.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating starts with choosing healthy foods that you enjoy, that will awaken all your senses and allow you to find pleasure in your food by smelling, chewing, tasting, swallowing and savouring each bite. This will contribute to conscious awareness of your level of hunger and when you are full.
The goal of mindful eating is to support the shift from thinking about food to exploring the actual eating experience. The focus is more on HOW to eat, and less on WHAT to eat.
Read: Practise the art of mindfulness
Michelle May, founder of the mindful eating workshops “Am I Hungry?” believes the awareness of food and the eating process is a necessary component that facilitates positive behaviour changes around food.
Since most people eat for reasons other than physical hunger, the question, “Why do I eat?” is often key to changing behaviour patterns.
These are the questions she uses to get us thinking about why we eat:
“Why do I eat?” Mindless eating may happen when we are bored, stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry or sad. We want to distract ourselves from the discomfort of the unwanted emotion, so we eat to mask these feelings.
“When do I want to eat?” This could be triggered by routine and the power of habit, which means we end up eating even when we aren’t hungry.
“What do I eat?” This boils down to what we chose to eat. Do you carefully and mindfully prepare your meals at home, or do you grab a pie and cold drink on the way to your next meeting?
“How do I eat?” Do you eat in the car on the way from one appointment to the next, or do you sit down and eat your food slowly, savouring each bite, reflecting on the flavours?
“How much do I eat?” This could be driven by habit and the size of meals you buy. For example, when shopping, do you choose a small or large packet of crisps?
“Where does the energy go?” Do you eat food to fuel you for the day, or do you just eat for the sake of eating? Overeating may lead you to feel lethargic and bloated. Ask yourself if the energy you consumed is going to be needed during the course of the day. Do you need that extra serving of potato salad if all you’re going to be doing is sitting at your desk all day?
Here are six top tips to avoid mindless eating:
- Ask yourself if you’re hungry or thirsty? Remember that hunger can mask itself as thirst, so if you feel peckish, first drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes. If you are still feeling hungry, it is probably real hunger.
- Sit down when you eat. Don’t eat on the go as you are less likely to appreciate your food when you are multitasking. It is also much harder to keep track of how much you are eating when you’re distracted.
- Eat slowly and aim to chew each bite at least 10 times before you swallow. Also pay attention to the smell, taste, texture and appearance of the food.
- Put your eating utensils or food down between mouthfuls.
- Serve you food on a smaller plate. Smaller plates will help you with portion control and is an especially good strategy at all-you-can eat-buffets.
- Turn off technology. Eating while you’re distracted can lead you to eat faster, feel less full and mindlessly eat more than your body requires.
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Michelle May, M.D., Am I Hungry? Workshop, wwwamihungry.com
"Harvard Health Blog 10 Tips For Mindful Eating — Just In Time For The Holidays - Harvard Health Blog". Health.harvard.edu.
Alina Petre, RD. "13 Science-Backed Tips To Stop Mindless Eating". Authority Nutrition.
The dietitians from Nutritional Solutions are Health24's expert team of registered dietitians.