The ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness is the state of being present in the moment, and noticing and accepting all that is around you, nonjudgmentally. It requires you to disconnect from the stresses of life and focus all of the senses on the present activity. In other words, mindfulness means not going through life on autopilot and acting with attention and intention within the moment.
Practicing mindful eating can be helpful for anyone who struggles with weight loss or healthy eating in general, because it forces you to stop and think about what will go into your mouth and why. Mindful eating encourages you to:
While mindful eating has been shown to be a helpful tool in allowing individuals to make better choices and lose weight, long-term adherence can often be a challenge. It is easy to get off course when schedules get busy, grocery shopping is skipped, the refrigerator is bare, and other distractions get in the way. When life or the household is chaotic, mindful eating becomes much like rowing against the tide — it is too much of a struggle.
Your food environments (e.g. the kitchen, work break room, or anyplace you are surrounded by food) can greatly influence your eating habits and affect your ability to eat more mindfully. When snack foods are stored in plain sight on the counter or produce is buried deep in a refrigerator drawer, your ability to make healthier choices becomes more of a challenge. When dinner is eaten in front of a television, it is difficult to focus on the acts of chewing and tasting. Mindful eating may be more achievable when your food environment is organized and set up to encourage healthier choices, fewer distractions, and the ability to eat with intention.
Research on food environments and mindful eating has shown that there are several important changes you can make in the kitchen to aid in the ability to eat more mindfully. Some helpful tips include:
1. Use smaller plates and bowls
Using smaller plates and bowls forces you to take smaller portions, while making you feel like you are filling your plate. Smaller plates also make you think twice before going back for a second serving. Research shows that people will pour approximately 30% less into a tall, thin glass than they will into a short glass, even if the volume is the same. For cutlery, consider smaller size serving forks and spoons to encourage yourself to eat more slowly, especially for foods like rice or potatoes which have calories that can add up quickly.
2. Put food away
Clear the kitchen counters of all food and groceries, except for a bowl of fresh fruit. If fruit is the first food you see, you will likely eat something healthy, which will give you time to collect your thoughts so you can eat more mindfully later.
3. Put healthy food at eye level
Wash and cut fresh produce right after it is purchased, and store it in clear containers at eye-level in the refrigerator so it is the first thing you see when you open it.
4. Out of sight and out of mind
Keep any snack food like chips or cookies, wrapped in foil, in a closet that is far away from the kitchen and living area. Out of sight means out of mind, and it is much easier to eat mindfully when you are not struggling with temptation. Better yet, leave the snack foods at the store!
5. Eliminate distractions
Remove the television, computer, and cell phones from the kitchen or dining area, and make sure that they are turned off during meals. People tend to eat more and faster when they are distracted. Try to use mealtime as a chance to catch up with family, or focus on the taste of the food and your own hunger and satiety.
6. Serve from the stove
Save serving dishes for company and serve yourself and family right from the stove. People who serve themselves from the stove eat 19% less total food compared to people who serve themselves from the table. The fact that you have to get up and walk to the stove for seconds will give you a chance to consider your hunger level.
7. Use a Crock-Pot®
Invest in a Crock-Pot or slow cooker and keep it easily accessible so you will use it frequently. Starting dinner in the morning or early in the day will ensure that you will not need to risk mindless eating when you walk in the door without a dinner plan.
8. Keep a grocery list
Place a large bulletin board or chalkboard near the refrigerator or pantry so everyone in the house can easily note when you are running low on staples. Snap a photo of the grocery list with your phone before heading to the supermarket. Post a list of each week’s meals in plain sight so that whoever comes home first can get started on dinner. Planning ahead and being organized is the best way to prevent mindless snacking and eating.
9. Downsize your grocery packages
Shopping at a food club or buying supersized packages of food can save you money, but it may cost you in terms of the extra calories you will consume from those large portions. Larger packages of cereal, meats, and especially snack foods can make it all too easy for you to prepare larger portions and consume excess calories. Keep a supply of freezer bags and airtight storage containers on hand so you can repackage your purchases into appropriate-sized portions for individual meals. Store extra meat, cheese, and even bread, in the freezer; put grains, cereals and snack foods in containers out of sight in the pantry.
10. Keep a food journal
Keeping a food journal or log will help you discover whether you have patterns that you could break to lead to better health via a healthier diet. For example, maybe you will discover that you tend to eat processed foods more often when you are feeling anxious or angry, or maybe you will find out that you are much more likely to eat foods that you had not planned to eat beforehand on the weekends. You can download a log you can print and fill out from Nutrition411 here, or use your phone and a free app such as myfitnesspal which can also track calories, carbohydrates, and exercise.
References and suggested reading
Bush HE, Rossy L, Mintz LB, Schopp L. Eat for life: A work site feasibility study of a novel mindfulness-based intuitive eating intervention. Am J Health Promot. 2014;28(6):380-8. doi:10.4278/ajhp.120404-QUAN-186.
Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelly BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful eating and living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complement Ther Med. 2010;(6):260-4. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2010.09.008.
Mindful eating. Harvard Health Publications website. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating. Published February 1, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2015.
Wansink B. Your slim-for-life home. In: Slim By Design, 1st ed. New York, NY: Harper Collins; 2014: 30-63.
Review Date: 4/23/15
Contributed by: Anne Danahy, MS RD LDN
Key words for search engine: mindful eating