It's all too easy to eat mindlessly and consume food without regard for what it is and how it makes us feel. Bags of chips are sold in family and bulk sizes, and more people are consuming a day's worth of calories in one sitting. The check-out sections in grocery stores are designed to tempt you with last-minute candy and soda, and convenience stores are more likely to have processed snacks than fresh fruits and vegetables.
What's more, our increasingly busy lives seem to force us to eat on the go. Instead of having at least three designated breaks to eat meals, many people down a cereal bar on their morning commute, eat lunch at their desks, then stop at the store for a frozen dinner to eat on the sofa.
The problem with mindless eating, noted Psychology Today, is that the brain is occupied on another task and therefore less aware of what the body is consuming. Sensations of fullness don't register, so people aren't compelled to stop eating. This leads them to ingest too many calories, contributing to chronic diseases like obesity and high blood pressure.
The solution is to eat mindfully. This requires people to focus more on what they eat and how they feel as they consume. According to Zen Habits, mindful eating helps people enjoy the taste of healthy food. At the same time, it shows them how empty of flavor unhealthy food really is and how it makes them feel worse, not better. Mindfulness tactics also help people confront any issues they have about eating and, most importantly, understand when to stop.
Tips for eating mindfully
The first step to mindful eating is to drink more water. In a conversation with Men's Fitness, Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating," said people often think they're hungry when they're actually dehydrated.
"We know our body's craving something and we just assume it's food, but frequently it ends up being liquids, especially in active people," he explained.
This confusion is why it's important to focus on how your body and mind feel before, during and after meals. As Zen Habits described, mindful eating involves observing your personal reaction to food. This makes the practice similar to meditation. To start, pay attention to the emotions you feel when you're hungry. Eat food, both healthy and unhealthy, with purpose. Take note of the look, taste, smell and feel of your meals and how these sensations affect your emotions during and after. Then, check in with your body throughout the day to see how the food makes you feel later on.
When eating mindfully, don't allow yourself to be distracted by work, TV, commuting or even a book. All of these draw your attention away from the food you're consuming, and you're likely to overeat as a result. Try to set a designated, distraction-free area for your meals, whether that's your kitchen, dining room or break area at work.
This concept doesn't just apply to big meals. Snacking at your desk throughout the workday has the same effect as working through lunch, directing you to eat too many calories. Bring a small bag of nuts, dried fruit or trail mix to work and leave your desk when you're ready to eat them. This mindfulness tip has the added benefit of forcing you to take a break every once in a while.
Also, consider your food's origins while you eat. Imagine where the produce was grown, how it was processed, who cooked it and whether it's organic. The point of this exercise is to think deeply about what you put into your body.
Eating mindfully sounds like a lot of work, but it soon becomes second nature. Eventually, mindful eaters naturally gravitate toward foods that make them feel strong and energized.