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Health Information | 05/31/2018

Mindful Eating

By  Marlene O'Donnell, RD
woman with eyes closed eating vegetables

Do you ever eat at one sitting a whole bag of potato chips or a sleeve of Oreo cookies or a pint of ice cream? Do you frequently feel “Thanksgiving full” too often after eating? Do you feel guilt or shame after eating? Do you just eat more than you want to? Mindful eating may help you develop a healthier relationship with food.

Mindful eating is simply paying attention to the food you eat, the flavor, the sensation in your body, thoughts, feelings and the source of the food. When you take a bite, try to give it your full attention. To me, eating mindfully means slowing down, expressing gratitude for the food I am eating, being satisfied with food, and paying attention to why I eat.

One benefit of mindful eating is feeling more satisfied and subsequently eating less. It’s a skill based on the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, and while it can be a tool to help you lose weight and improve your health, it does take some work to develop.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Pause before eating. Take a few seconds to breathe in and breathe out. Count in 1,2,3,4 and out 1,2,3,4. Try this a few times.
  • Try to relax before eating. Put on some soft music. Light some candles. Some cultures pray and express gratitude for a meal before eating.
  • Engage with all your senses: the taste, the texture, the smell, and the sounds. Usually, the first three bites of a food are the most intense. (We all know the first bite of a chocolate chip cookie is usually the best.) Try to notice the burst of flavor.
  • Put your fork down after each bite. Many people find it helpful not to put anything on their fork until they swallow what is in their mouth.
  • Stop in the middle of the meal, pause and reconnect with the food and your body. Digestion starts in your mouth. Eating slowly helps the digestion and absorption of food.
  • Make eating your only activity. Try not to eat while on your phone or your computer, in the car or at your desk.
  • To help decrease after-dinner eating, develop a ritual that signals the meal is completed. Turn the lights off in the kitchen, brush your teeth or wash your hands with a scented soap.
  • Eat alone. Try a 15 minute breakfast or lunch. It may help you start or reconnect to mindful eating.
  • Reconnect to your food. Think about: where is the food grown? how is the food prepared? is it processed? do you want this food in your body? is it nourishing you?
  • Rate your hunger and fullness. This chart may be a tool to help you identify when you are hungry and full. You may use this before eating meal or snacks:

Mindful eating may be challenging at first. It is important not to skip meals, especially breakfast. Try to include protein with the first meal of the day. You might want to try a whole wheat English muffin with natural peanut butter or whole wheat toast with an egg. It may also help to prepare breakfast at night or even try dinner leftovers for breakfast.

Another challenge may be breaking the habit of late-night eating. Start by turning off the TV or computer and try to find another healthy nighttime activity like reading, listening to music or a podcast, doing some yoga stretches, or meditating. Try to get more sleep by going to bed earlier.

Mindful eating is a skill that takes some time and practice to develop. Like all new habits, it takes motivation and commitment. Try one or two tips for a week. You will improve your relationship with food and feel better. Remember to savor each bite and make eating a new adventure.

Some recommended reading includes:

  • Savor. Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lillian Cheung.
  • The Joy of Half a Cookie by Jean Kristeller, PhD.

Your Atrius Health nutritionist can help you develop a mindful eating plan that’s right for you.

About The Author

Marlene O'Donnell, RD

Marlene O’Donnell is a registered nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with over 25 years’ experience helping people develop healthy eating habits and lifestyles. With a master’s degree in nutrition from Boston University, she has a passionate interest in diabetes, weight management, and cardiovascular health. In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her large extended family and participate in running, swimming and cycling.

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