How often do you pay attention to what you eat while you’re eating it?
I mean, really pay attention. If you often find that you finish the food on your plate without noticing or tasting most of it, consider cultivating some mindfulness.
To eat mindfully is to be aware and engaged in the present moment. You are conscious of the act of eating. You slow down and savor each bite. You start eating because you are getting hungry. You stop eating when your body or taste buds tell you you’ve had enough.
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To eat mindlessly is to eat while you are distracted or lost in thought. You are operating on autopilot. You eat quickly and barely taste your food. You might start eating because you are hungry, but it might also be because you are bored, stressed or just because you always eat lunch at 12:30 p.m. You stop eating when your food is gone.
Mindful eating is a skill that takes some practice, but the payoff can be great, especially during the holiday season, when indulgent foods are in abundance.
Mindful eating can help you get back in touch with your body’s signals of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. This makes it easier to put your fork down before you overindulge.
Mindful eating can also help you enjoy your food more. When you make a point of tasting each bite, you get maximum pleasure from the experience of eating. When you spend all year looking forward to certain holiday foods, why shouldn’t you make the most of the experience?
You don’t have to practice mindfulness at every meal to benefit from it. Many people find it’s easiest to start with select meals, such as those eaten alone. Here are some more tips to get going:
• Sit quietly for a moment before picking up your fork. Take a few deep breaths, and actually look at the food you are about to enjoy.
• If you usually eat quickly, practice slowing your pace. Put down your fork between bites. Wait until food is completely chewed and swallowed before picking up your next bite.
• The act of eating involves all of our senses. Pay attention to the colors of the food. Notice the texture and sounds, the aroma and flavor. Is it crunchy, creamy, warm, cold, sweet, salty, spicy?
• Pause halfway through your meal to assess how you feel. Are you full? Are you satisfied? Does the food still taste delicious? If you clean your plate and want more, wait five minutes, then decide if you are still hungry.
• Don’t multitask while you eat. Avoid distractions such as the computer, television, handheld electronics, magazines, books or intense conversations. If you must eat with distractions, make a point to bring your attention back to your food several times.
• Set a place at the table. Clear clutter off the kitchen or dining-room table. Set out a plate, utensils and a napkin. If you can, use an attractive place mat or light a candle. This makes it easier to slow down and enjoy the act of eating.
• Make your bites count. When faced with many choices, ask yourself what you really want to eat. Focus on the holiday foods you look forward to all year, and pass up those you can eat anytime.
Carrie Dennett is a graduate student in the Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington. Her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.