Healthy Habits 101: Eating Mindfully

We are kicking off a new series called Healthy Habits 101, which are easy steps to get started on building better habits.

With the start of 2019 well under way, you probably made some resolutions along the lines of being a healthier, more balanced version of your 2018 self.  A healthy lifestyle is the accumulation of your daily habits, so let’s start with something you do everyday — eating. Mindful eating is a technique based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept used in meditation.  It helps you gain awareness about your eating habits, so that you eat intuitively rather than emotionally (as in those late night binges you end up regretting in the morning).

The average American spends over two hours a day eating, but often, that’s coupled with some other activity.  We often eat on autopilot while working at a computer, driving, or just checking our phones, and the results are not ideal.  We might end up eating too quickly or too much, and we don’t always pay attention to what we eat. This mindless eating—a lack of awareness of the food we're consuming—contributes to anxiety, weight gain, and other health issues, says Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and lecturer.

Mindful eating means focusing on how you eat, so you can be more aware and get at the why as well.  Start your mindful eating session by practicing these steps:

  • Have gratitude and appreciation for your food

  • Understand whether hunger or something else has triggered you to eat

  • Eat slowly and without distraction

  • Engage your senses and savor your food’s smell, taste, colors, temperature, textures, and even sound (like a sizzling plate)!

  • Recognize and cope with any guilt and anxiety about food

  • Noticing the effect on your feelings and mood after the meal and the following day

Now how do you fit this practice into your busy schedule and make it a habit? Here are a few steps for starting your mindful eating practice so that it becomes natural and automatic:

1. Set aside time in your calendar and give yourself time for mindful eating

Block off 30 minutes for eating mindfully on your calendar for at least one meal everyday. Sit at a table and eat from a dedicated setting without electronics. Lunch time too busy? Then set aside time to have a leisurely, sit-down breakfast. By dedicating time to meals without distraction, you’ll give yourself the headspace to be present by focusing on the food and people around you.    

2. Get into the habit of thinking about how and why you eat

Challenge yourself: for one week, keep a journal of what and why you ate, and how you feel after meals. What triggered you to eat —is it actually hunger or something more emotional? Where are you on the hunger scale? The body actually sends its satiation signal about 20 minutes after the brain, which is why we often unconsciously overeat.  Try to stop eating when you’re 70% full, because the feeling of fullness may not have reached your brain yet.  How do you feel after the meal, or the next day? If you don’t like keeping a journal, just asking yourself these questions will help you be more mindful about your eating habits.

3. Make it fun and hold each other accountable

Pick a buddy at school or work, and commit to eating mindfully together at least once a week. Host a potluck or make dinner plans with friends and practice eating mindfully whether you go out or cook. When we’re accountable to someone else, we’re less likely to make excuses. And when we eat with other people, we naturally slow down, talk more, and enjoy our meals.

The real test -- can you make it a habit for 2019?

On average, it takes about two months before a new behavior becomes automatic like a habit.  Try the mindful eating challenge for about two months, and it will start to feel natural, like your morning run or yoga practice.   Unlike diets, you can see benefits from eating mindfully almost immediately. You’ll have a more balanced mindset and more awareness around the experience of food. If you can adopt even some of these habits, you can continue the rest of 2019 and beyond with a happier gut and calmer mind.

Let us know how you do with mindful eating.

Here at Piicked, we are always nerding out and sharing our own stories about health and wellness, so we’d love to hear yours.  Share your story about mindful eating and other new years resolutions to info@piicked.com or tag your post on social media with #piickedhealthyhabit.