What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindful eating is being conscious of your hunger cues, savoring your food, and knowing when you are satisfied with a meal. Practicing these steps can help you maintain a healthy relationship with the food you eat and avoid unhealthy patterns like overeating, due to stress or sadness.

The role of stress. High amounts of stress have been shown to change appetite, stimulate overeating, and cause insulin-resistance, which can lead to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Stress can cause your brain to make you crave foods high in fat, sugar, or salt.

Hunger & Food Cues

Hunger cues are the brain's responses that communicate fullness. When your body needs food, signals are sent that tell you it is time to eat. When you have eaten enough and your body is satisfied, signals are sent that tell you to stop.

Food cues are words, feelings, logos, objects, smells, or sounds that spark the desire to consume certain foods or beverages. An example of a food cue is driving by a fast-food restaurant sign and remembering how much you loved getting a kid's meal when you were younger. This euphoric memory then prompts a desire for that food, so you drive through and grab a burger with fries, without thinking much about it.

Food cues can interfere with internal hunger cues, preventing you from recognizing the difference between the two.

Practicing Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness is a great way to bring awareness back to your internal hunger cues and to acknowledge what food cues may be negatively affecting your food choices. Awareness is the first step in lifestyle change, and could be the first step in making better decisions for your long-term health.

When thinking about food cravings, use the RAIN approach:

Recognize the craving.
Allow the craving to be there. You don't have to give in to it, but don't fight to ignore it. 
Investigate your feelings, emotions, thoughts, and sensations.
Non-identification. The craving is not who you are. It is a passing experience that comes and goes.

Mindful Eating Tips

  1. Break the food routine. Eating the same foods every day can lead to eating on autopilot and not listening to the internal hunger and satiety cues.
  2. Savor each bite. Bring all of your senses into each bite of your meal, noticing the aroma, texture, appearance, and taste. This will help you take the time to enjoy your meal, as well as notice when you are full.
  3. Give your meals and snacks all of your attention. The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating, where you eat out of boredom or while your brain is engaged in another activity, such as watching TV.
  4. Check in with your body during your meal. After eating about half of your meal, stop and take a moment to ask yourself if you are still hungry. Slow down and give your mind time to listen to the signals your body may be trying to send you.
  5. Change your talk. Using words like "diet" and "fat" and "weight loss" can have a huge impact on your mind and emotions, which can affect how you respond to food and hunger cues. Be nice to your body and yourself, and allow your mind to have a positive relationship with food.

Challenge:

Eat one meal this week mindfully. Use the checklist below to write down thoughts and feelings you had during the experience.

  1. Remove any distractions, such as a TV playing in the background. Bring awareness to the food, using all of your senses. Look at it. Touch it. Smell it.
  2. Take a bite.
  3. Put the food or utensil down, and chew the food slowly. Think about the flavor and texture as you chew.
  4. Take a drink of water, and sit for a few seconds, checking in with your body.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4.

Awareness Checklist

  • Am I sitting?
  • Eating fast or slow?
  • Mindlessly munching or noticing each bite?
  • Asking "How hungry am I?" on a scale from one to ten.
  • Multitasking or truly focused on my meal?
  • Rumbling stomach or bored, stressed, tired, anxious, etc.?