We’ve all done it, snacked mindlessly in front of the TV, or, in the heat of a busy day, shoveled down lunch, hardly tasting it. We also know when we’re eating just for comfort, or because of boredom or stress.
There’s something you can do to prevent these habits, along with the weight gain that often follows. You can practice “mindful eating.” It’s not a diet, but rather a practice that can help you slow down, be more aware of what you’re eating and pay attention to whether or not you are actually hungry.
“Mindful eating grew out of the concept of mindfulness, which is being aware using all of the senses of the present moment,” says registered dietitian Maxine Smith.
She says similar non-diet approaches have been popular for about 10-15 years, with a revival of mindful eating as an alternative to restrictive diets.
To define mindful eating, Ms. Smith points to the principles laid down by the international nonprofit Center for Mindful Eating:
Here’s how Ms. Smith says we can put those principles into action to get off the dieting roller coaster and develop a healthy relationship with food:
Rather than rushing into another meal, Smith advises taking a moment to relax before taking the first bite.
“Step away from your previous activity like work, take some deep breaths, and clear your mind,” she says. “Take a small bite, being aware of all of the sensations of your food — how it looks on the plate, the smell, the mouthfeel, and how your body responds to the food.”
Eating at your desk, in the car or while you’re standing and making the kids dinner are all prime environments for mindless eating.
“Turn off the TV, get rid of distractions,” Ms. Smith says. “When you’re getting started, set a timer for 20 minutes with a small portion of food and make sure it lasts that long.”
“This approach gives you a sense of freedom, whereas you may have felt restricted, with a constant feeling that you’re being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’” says Ms. Smith.
“It’s building healthier relationships with food and is a more sustaining way to regulate your body weight.”
A 2006 study by Cornell University food psychologist Brian Wansink observed the candy consumption of 40 adult secretaries over four weeks to measure how the visibility and proximity of the candy influenced their intake.
They ate an average of 2.2 more candies a day when they were visible — in clear bowls instead of opaque — and 1.8 more when they were on their desks instead of two meters away.
“Adjust your environment to make it more conducive to mindful eating,” Ms. Smith says.