Mindful Eating: How to practice Intuitive Eating
How many times have you found yourself grabbing a bite to eat between meetings or while rushing out the door?
This kind of behavior has become the new norm as we struggle as a society to find the time to sit down and eat, let alone cook a meal.
Mindful eating has flown out the window for many of us due to the fast-paced kind of lifestyle we have adopted in the 21st century. As we have been conditioned to strive to want to accomplish more in less time our lifestyles have become quite hectic and stressful as a result pushing us farther and farther away from our innate ability to eat mindfully and intuitively.
For most of us our meals are experienced mindlessly, either on the go, at our desks at work in front of the computer, or in front of the TV at night.
As a result, for many of us, we have lost the connection to our food and our bodies.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating or intuitive eating, on the other hand, means to be aware of the foods and drinks you are putting into your body and directing your full attention to the meal in front of you. This type of eating emphasizes awareness of the body signs and symptoms during meal times in order to judge appetite signals and choose the right foods for your constitution. This also enhances flavor and taste as well as enjoyment and allows us to distinguish more easily between physical and emotional hunger cues.
Not only can mindful eating reduce stress levels but it also has a significant impact on your health by supporting digestion and absorption of food, promoting healthier choices, decreasing cravings, and reducing the risk of overeating.
If this sounds foreign to you, don't worry you are not alone! Many of us have no idea how to judge how much we should be eating let alone what we should be eating. We are so out of touch with our bodies we no longer know how to listen to it and receive its feedback.
This is why today we are giving you some of our top tips so you can learn how to become more in tune with your body to make food choices that feel good to you.
Top tips to practice mindful eating
How you eat is just as important as what you eat! Are you eating on the go or are you actually sitting down and being present with your meals?
Taking the time to eat, we recommend at least 20 minutes, will help your brain to receive the signals that you are full. This also allows your digestion to function optimally because the digestive system operates in a relaxed state called the parasympathetic state. So how can you practice good meal hygiene? Sit down with your meals, put down your fork after each bite, ensure you are properly chewing your food (this means 20-30 bites!), and avoid distractions such as phones and TVs.
Ask yourself the right questions
Intuitive eating is based on being present with your current needs of the moment, it's not a diet but instead a way of living. Some powerful questions to ask yourself before and during meals or when you encounter cravings or the need to indulge:
- Am I really hungry right now or am I seeking food out of comfort?
- Does this food impact me negatively or positively?
- Where are my needs currently not being met at the moment?
- How can I support myself in this moment?
One of the quickest and guaranteed ways to reduce stress in the body and calm down the nervous system? Breathwork. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the relaxed state of the body, needed to activate the digestive system. But it also takes you out of fight or flight mode meaning you are able to make better decisions and respond from a place of calm vs chaos. If you find yourself stress-eating or having a hard time being present at meals, practice taking a few deep breaths before you eat, we promise it makes a world of difference!
Make home-cooked meals
Digestion doesn't just start when you take your first bite of food, it starts much sooner when you engage your senses such as vision and smell which then triggers digestive secretions. Not only does this, of course, improve your digestion but it also creates a connection between yourself and the food you are preparing. Even better? Cooking with others has been shown to strengthen the bond between people and increase happiness.
Ditch the labels
Should you go keto? Paleo? Vegan? It can be very confusing deciding on which diet you should try next or which one will work for you. But the reality is, we don't need to assign a diet label to ourselves to be healthy or achieve results.
We all have different bio-individual needs which means we won't all fit under the same diet. So release any pressure to mold yourself into a diet and allow yourself instead, the flexibility of food choice by making your food choices fit into your unique diet that feels good to you!
When we severely restrict food groups or deny ourselves of flexibility we set ourselves up for sabotage. So instead of making all treats entirely off-limits, allow yourself to indulge mindfully every so often. Portion your treat on a plate and sit down with it to enjoy it fully. This allows you to savor the moment fully and release any guilt or shame around the activity which also reduces the risk of overeating or caving into cravings.
We cannot experience stress and anxiety when we are grateful. This is why gratitude is one of the most transformative practices you can incorporate into your daily routine. Showing gratitude for your food is a great way to promote feelings of happiness and become more present. Take a moment to say thank you for the meal in front of you which took a lot of people and resources to get to you!
Change your vocabulary
When we are coming from a diet standpoint we approach labeling foods as "good" or "bad". However, this can be triggering because we may internalize the action of eating these foods and label ourselves as being either good or bad. Cheating is another common word used among dieters which can lead them to a downward spiral of overeating, bingeing, and negative self talk.
So what can we do instead? Change our vocabulary! Avoiding labeling food as good or bad and instead choosing foods by the way they make us feel. For instance, you could say you choose the salad over the french fries because it makes you feel energized. This makes you feel more empowered because you are making a decision based on how you want to feel, instead of shaming yourself over a food decision.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.