If you’re on a mission to lose weight chances are you’re counting calories. While this can be helpful, there’s no doubt continuous calorie counting is a slog. It also means we stop trusting our bodies, and instead rely on external rules (like diets) to tell us when and how much to eat.
But what’s the alternative? Well, it’s called mindful eating. It’s not magic and does require practice, but it can improve your relationship with food and help you reach a healthy weight minus your calorie counting app.
MINDFUL EATING, WHAT’S THAT?
When was the last time you last checked in before eating to ask; ‘am I hungry?’
If the answer is “I can’t remember”, you’re not alone. Most of the time we eat mindlessly – on autopilot, when distracted, and for reasons other than hunger. See if any of these habits sound familiar…
- Scooping down a bowl of cereal in front of e-mails or while getting dressed
- Eating bites of lunch scrolling through your phone, or posting on Instagram
- Heading to the fridge or vending machine when you hit a tedious part of the work day
- Eating chocolate, crisps or other comfort food after a bad day or to help you cope with emotions
- Emptying your plate, regardless of how full you are
- Eating lots of a food because it’s ‘free’ or low in calories, even if you don’t like it that much
- Eating because food is offered to you without considering whether you’re actually hungry
- Eating a meal in front of the T.V., looking down to realize it’s gone but you still feel hungry
Although most of us eat on autopilot from time to time, the more often we eat like this, the more likely we are to struggle with our weight. And that’s when when we turn to a diet – instead of getting back in touch with why and how we eat.
Mindful eating turns dieting on it’s head by encouraging you to use your body’s inbuilt method of regulating food intake – eating when hungry, stopping when satsifed – instead of calorie counting or a diet plan. Believe it or not, we all have these cues – it’s just we’ve forgotten how to listen to them.
Mindful eating also helps you identify why you turn to food when you’re not hungry (for example in response to stress, boredom, sadness) and teaches you how to manage these emotions in other more helpful ways.
In addition, you’ll start to enjoy your food more as you really pay attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel, versus eating a food because you think you should, or at the other end of the scale, bingeing on something that’s off limits (which never feels good afterwards).
IS MINDFUL EATING REALLY HELPFUL?
You might think tuning in and trusting your body sounds flaky, but research shows mindful eating practices can help to reduce binge and emotional eating, improving self esteem and what scientists call ‘self-regulation’.
Self regulation is the ability to make good choices for yourself. Ones that help you reach a desired goal. So over time, eating mindfully an help you make better decisions about food, without needing to follow a diet. When you combine mindful eating practices with helpful principles about nutrition, it can also lead to weight loss without the struggle of calorie counting.
More importantly it gives you freedom and confidence in your ability to make food choices – without relying on calories or a diet.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH MINDFUL EATING
Mindful eating is a skill which takes practice, but you can you can begin with a few simple tools – I’m going to share two of my favourites to get your started.
Tool 1 – Hunger Awareness
For the next few days, whenever you go to eat, simply ask yourself… am I hungry? If the answer is yes, rate your hunger on a scale of 0-5, imagining your hunger levels like the petrol gauge on your car. 0 is completely empty (ravenous, so hungry you can’t think straight!) 5 is neutral– no sign of hunger.
For most people, hunger begins to make itself known around 4, and get progressively stronger as you get to 0. For most of us, eating when hunger is around 3 is ideal – waiting until you’re very hungry (0-1) can lead to overeating.
If the answer is no, I’m not hungry… ask yourself, “what else is going on? Am I feeling anything in particular?” If you come up with an answer great, if not that’s ok too. See if you can give yourself the option of delaying eating until you are hungry.
Don’t worry if hunger feels unfamiliar; as you start tuning in, you’ll get to know your own personal hunger code! And, once you start to identify the difference between physical hunger and other triggers you can use this information to help you make a decision about whether to eat or not.
Tool 2 – Device Free Dining
Studies show when we combine eating with other activities (watching TV, working, or catching up on social media) we miss the subtle signals that tell us we have moved from hunger to ‘enough’ – this is the space beforeyou feel full.
In fact, the MOREdistractions we have when eating, the LESS satisfied we feel.
Have a think about the times of day you are most distracted when it comes to eating – is breakfast always eaten at your desk? Do you tend to snack on the train ride home whilst reading? Perform a bit of detective work to determine your distraction hotspots, and then challenge yourself to have a distraction free meal during one of these times.
The goal is to eat without any distraction – that means no TV, reading, working or using your phone – all your attention is going to be on the food. Before you start, take a minute to see if you can rate your hunger. Then begin your meal and focus fully on the tastes, textures, smell and appearance of the food. Keep tuning in as you continue eating, and see if you can notice when your hunger changes – how do you know when you’ve had enough? Once you notice hunger disappearing you can choose to stop, remembering that you can return to it later.
Afterwards, take some time to reflect on the practice – how did it feel to eat without distraction? Did you enjoy the experience? Did you feel more satisfied after eating? Most people find that they can ‘hear’ satiety much more easily when they eat without distraction. Studies also suggest we may go on to eat less later in the day if we eat with full attention.
Want to learn more?
If you fancy learning more, join me on Instagram (@nutritilty) for tips and mindful eating challenges. I’m also going to be launching a brand new mindful eating course in September – it’s completely online and self-paced, so you can work through the tools at your own pace. If you want to find out more, register your interest here– it’s free and there’s no obligation to sign up J