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Thursday
Mar052015

8 Ways Mindful Eating Can Help You Lose Weight

How often do you work through lunch? 

Do you eat or drink breakfast in your car? Are you stealing bites of dinner while folding laundry and watching the evening news?

We may stop to wonder sometimes: what happened to formal meals at the table? In today’s fast-paced culture, we rarely give ourselves a chance to sit down and eat – and only eat.

Instead, we’re often multitasking - as if eating and enjoying a meal isn't enough. We somehow can’t justify eating as an act worthy of full attention.

Would it change your mind, however, to know that eating mindfully can actually improve your weight loss success by influencing your physiological and emotional responses to eating?

We all know that “what” we eat is important when we’re trying to lose weight and become healthier. Mindful eating, however, lets us consider “how” we eat - specifically how our eating habits and environments influence our experience of food and our bodies’ responses to it.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, which means being fully aware of all that inhabits the present moment. When we apply this idea to eating, we approach eating in a slower, more thoughtful way by noticing the colors, flavors, smells and textures of our food. We avoid distractions (e.g. television, working) in order to be fully present with the experience of eating rather than plowing through a meal half-consciously. We can begin mindful eating by attempting some simple practices: turning off background media, eating at the table, putting the fork down in between bites, chewing more slowly, and tuning into the texture and flavors of our food. 

How Can Mindful Eating Help Me Lose Weight?

If you’re used to going through your day at high speed, slowing down while you eat may feel unusual - even frustrating at first. The thought of not multitasking while eating might stress you out. The shift will be well worth the experiment, however! As with any new strategy or behavior, start small. Even practicing one tip this week will get you headed in the right direction!

1. Mindful eating will allow you to be more in tune with hunger hormones. 

One of the first goals I suggest to my clients is to learn to identify the feeling of hunger. Too many of us are out of touch with real hunger as well as the hormones that regulate it - leptin and ghrelin. As a result, we become subject to cravings when we’re not even hungry!

When we practice mindful eating, however, we allow these hormones to work by their own timing and in their natural harmonious balance. We allow our bodies to recognize the feeling of hunger (and satiation), which means we know when to eat and when to stop. When we experience cravings, we can pause and discern whether we’re really hungry or not.

"Get Started” Tip: Before you begin eating, ask yourself these questions: “Am I really hungry?”, “Does my body need this?” and “Why am I eating this?”

2. Mindful eating can help you reduce overeating. 

Did you know that it takes nearly twenty minutes for your stomach and your brain to communicate that you're full? When we slow down our eating, we allow this communication to happen. It’s a signal that’s too often lost when we’re speeding through a meal (only to end up feeling uncomfortably stuffed later). If we give our attention and time to eating, we'll become more in sync with our bodies’ responses, which will make overconsumption less likely.

"Get Started" Tip: When it’s time to eat dinner, set your watch or phone alarm for 20 minutes. Try to pace your eating, and let the meal last the full 20 minutes.

3. Mindful eating will increase your enjoyment of food. 

Think of a time when you’ve been able to enjoy a luxurious, multi-course meal at a nice restaurant. The experience can be unforgettable with all the tastes, smells and textures of a variety of great foods - all hopefully shared with good company! Recall the sense of leisure and pleasure, of attentiveness and anticipation you felt. Mindful eating can bring this same experience to your meals at home and allow you to really relax and enjoy the food in front of you - even if it’s only a modest snack.

Bonus: when we allow ourselves the opportunity to really enjoy what we eat, we’re more likely to prioritize food preparation and “dining” even on a normal day at home. The result? We’re more inclined to invest time and money in higher quality food choices. We know, for example, it’s worth the extra time to make a nice steak and salad than microwave a frozen, highly processed meal.

"Get Started" Tip: Start journaling “where” you are eating (e.g. car, in front of computer, etc.) throughout the day. If you’re normally a “behind the wheel” eater, make a goal to wake up a littler earlier at least one day a week and allow ample time to make a genuine “sit down” breakfast.

4. Mindful eating can improve your digestion. 

Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing and the activation of saliva. When food isn’t chewed properly, it can create more work for your entire digestive system, which often leads to uncomfortable effects like gas, bloating and cramping. A healthy gut and digestive tract are both necessary for optimal health and weight management. 

"Get Started" Tip: Take the time to chew your food. Put your fork down between every bite, and chew 20 times before you get to the next bite. Choose whole foods that actually require chewing versus highly processed foods that make it easy to "inhale" large portions quickly.

5. Mindful eating can give you insight into your relationship with food.

It’s important to understand our associations with food and eating, particularly if we have a history of disordered or emotional eating. We can use distractions to cover up aspects of our eating experience that we don’t want to face. Likewise, we can subconsciously deprive ourselves of the pleasures of eating by disconnecting from the experience. No matter what our weight, no matter what our histories, we all deserve to enjoy our food. Bringing our full attention to eating allows us to better gauge that relationship and make changes if need be.

"Get Started" Tip: Pay attention to (and journal about) what you feel when you’re inclined to reach for food without being hungry. Likewise, notice how you feel when you allow yourself to focus solely on your food. Particularly note emotions like impatience, urgency, anger, anxiety or guilt.

6. Eating mindfully can help you feel rejuvenated.

There’s a famous quote by author Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” I think it’s safe to say she didn’t have eating over the kitchen sink in mind here! If we can commit to taking a break from stress and multitasking at the dinner table, it gives our bodies the opportunity to relax, de-stress and reboot. Let the dining table be that oasis, saved solely for mindful eating and pleasant socialization. Your stress hormone levels will benefit from the break - and your waistline might as well!

"Get Started" Tip: When it’s time for dinner, make a rule of no television, cell phones, tablets, or any other distractions that can trigger stress hormones. Take this time to solely focus on eating and conversation.

7. Mindful eating can help you get back in touch with the social aspect of eating.

While mindful eating focuses on the food itself, we can also embrace the full ambiance and experience. When you take the time to just eat and enjoy the company of those around the table, your social wellness can benefit from the experience. Families that practice mindful eating and sharing at the table give themselves the opportunity to really connect and engage with each other outside of the common all-day stressors. 

"Get Started" Tip: Practice eating with a friend or with your family at least one day a week. Take the time to talk about the meal and fully appreciate the social engagement and connection. 

8. Mindful eating can help you feel satisfied with less.

Diet-focused weight loss tactics can leave people feeling less satisfied with their eating. When you learn how to fully enjoy the eating experience, however, you’ll be less likely to sabotage yourself later hunched over a cereal box or ice cream container. Many of my clients who practice mindful eating often say they no longer deny themselves certain foods but trust in their ability to limit portion size because they’ve learned to enjoy small quantities so much more.

"Get Started" Tip: Go for quality versus quantity. When you choose smaller amounts of the best foods you can afford (such as a small grass fed steak versus a larger portion of highly processed meat), you’ll be more satisfied and appreciate knowing it’s better for you.  

Are you interested in adding mindfulness to your weight loss journey? Talk with a weight loss coach today! Thanks for reading, everyone. 

Written by Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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