Dieting: Is it mind over matter?
If you have gone on a diet to lose weight, perhaps you’ve realized at some point that successful dieting is not just a matter of calories or controlling portion sizes, for example. It also depends on you having the power to change the way you eat, your eating behavior and your relationship with food.
One popular and recognized strategy to help change eating behaviours, used not only by psychologists but also by nutritionists and nutrition coaches is mindfulness, a practice based on Zen Buddhism.
Mindful eating is a full body experience where you focus all your attention and senses on the experience of eating and drinking.
Below I’ll give you 10 principles that you can apply to start eating mindfully.
1. Sit down, don’t eat on the run, and chew your food thoroughly
When you eat rapidly, you might be ignoring your body’s signals of fullness. But, if you eat more slowly, you will give your body more time to recognize the delayed signals from your stomach to your mind that you are full. Therefore, the focus is to enjoy each bite.
You can slow down by putting your fork down between bites, sitting down to eat, and chewing each bite at least 25 times. You can also try eating with smaller utensils or even chopsticks!
2. Savour each food with all of your senses:
When you’re cooking and eating your food, remember to engage all of your senses. Look at your food, pay attention to its colour and shape and to the sounds they make as you prepare or chew them. Let your mouth enjoy the different flavours and textures, pause for a moment and get absorbed by the aroma of the food, and finally, get delighted with its taste and the diversity that nature provides for us.
3. Listen to your body:
Before eating or drinking, take a slow and deep breath and ask yourself this question: Am I really hungry? There might be several reasons for you to say so, perhaps you’ve not eaten in a while, or you feel tired, anxious, or lonely, and you’re seeking food to cope with those emotions.
Also, when eating, pay attention to when you’re full and satisfied. Remember that in mindfulness, you should stop when full, not when your plate is empty.
4. Establish a regular meal schedule, and don't skip meals:
If you skip meals, it will be harder for you to make mindful decisions. So, give yourself the opportunity to make mindful choices, plan regular meals and healthy snacks in between. When we skip meals, we tend to eat larger meals or overeat due to being more hungry and often to satisfy that desire, we will grab anything and everything to quickly meet that desire. This is why it’s also not wise to go food shopping when you’re hungry!
It’s good to eat regularly each day and remember to give yourself enough time to enjoy each meal.
5. Get a good night’s sleep and stop using electronic devices an hour before bed:
A good night’s sleep is also essential for good health and for keeping a normal weight.
If you think you’re not getting enough sleep, you should find out why. Establish good sleep habits, go to bed at a regular hour, avoid caffeinated drinks after mid-afternoon, avoid heavy meals for dinner, begin to slow down an hour before bed with soothing music, a warm bath, having some quiet time or reading.
Before going to bed, abstain from doing stimulating activities, including vigorous exercise, watching movies or listening to loud music.
6. Turn off the TV and radio during meals and avoid other distractions – concentrate on eating:
Watching television or doing other activities while eating could lead you to paying less attention to what you’re eating and being less aware of your satiety signals and how much you’re eating.
Try to avoid those mindless activities, and when eating, just eat! It’s always important to recognize what you’re going to put on your plate and in your mouth, and fully enjoy the food.
7. Drink more water, hunger can sometimes be confused with dehydration:
People sometimes confuse thirst for hunger. Pay attention to your body’s signals and learn to differentiate between how it feels to be hungry and how it feels to be thirsty.
Next time, try drinking a glass of water and wait a few minutes. If this comforts you, maybe you were just thirsty, but if you still feel your stomach grumbling, then go and grab a healthy snack.
8. Find alternative ways to cope with stress and emotions rather than food:
Before you start eating, take a moment to reflect: Are you sad? Bored? Anxious? Stress and several emotions may prompt you to turn to food for comfort, but there are several techniques that can help you change this behavior and deal with them in a healthier way. For example, go for a walk, practice yoga or have some minutes of daily meditation, or even just look for a friend to have a little chat with. You can also keep tempting foods away or even freeze them and replace them with healthier snacks, alternatively, consult with an emotional eating expert.
9. Use a smaller plate or bread & butter size plate and wait for 10mins before going for another serve:
Moderation is the key to mindful eating. Try to choose smaller portions using smaller plates and try to fill it only once. This can help you eat more moderately and avoid overeating.
10. Eat a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables in your meals and snacks:
Get the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables by adding them to each of your meals. Make an effort to choose them in a rainbow of colors every day. Include dark-green varieties, yellow-orange, red and white. Try to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 serves of fruits per day. Try to make half of your plate full of non-starchy vegetables at each meal.
As you can see, there are many tips and methods that can be used to look at the chronic behaviours that have led to weight gain or yoyo dieting. Most importantly, it involves a mentor or person in your life that can hold you accountable as you make positive changes to becoming a healthier you. If you'd like that support and for someone to give you expert nutrition and cognitive behaviour change advice, then please contact me. In the meantime, sign up here to download a free PDF of 10 Tips to Mindful Eating and receive monthly e-newsletters on topics related to child and maternal nutrition and breastfeeding issues :)
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Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, with an introduction by Jon Kabat-Zinn, released February 3, 2009 by Shambhala Publishing.
Nhat Hanh, T. and Cheung, L. (2011). Savor. New York: HarperOne.