Emotional eating is often used as a punchline, typically referring to overeating in response to a particular trigger. It could be a conflict with a partner, a sideways conversation with a friend, or pressure at work.
But what if the trigger is just the rhythm of our day? Grabbing a muffin as you race to catch the train, eating lunch at your desk while you work, or watching TV while you eat dinner on the couch? The stressful pace of our lives causes us to eat mindlessly. We aren’t paying attention and we’re paying the price, with both our physical and mental health (you know we can’t let a mind + body connection pass).
The irony is that during this time of year - full of gratitude and reflection and paying attention to each other - is when mindless eating peaks. We spend the holidays visiting, drinking, laughing, traveling. What we’re not doing is paying attention to what goes in our mouths.
What is mindful eating?
Like mindful meditation, mindful eating is about paying attention to what your body needs in the moment. New York psychotherapist Alexis Conason, who specializes in mindful eating and body dissatisfaction issues, writes “it is a process of regaining trust in our body and relying on our internal appetite regulation system to guide what, when, and how much to eat. In order to truly listen to our body’s internal GPS, we need to honor what that system is telling us.”
Mindful eating is not a diet. It’s not about being restrictive, but more about making conscious choices. Becoming more aware of the process of eating certainly can help you maintain or lose weight. But at its core, mindful eating is about our relationship with food.
Set the mood
Meals should involve food, family, and/or friends. There should be no multi-tasking of any kind unless it involves enjoying another person’s company. No cell phone. No TV. No reading. No working. Create positive associations with meals, like laughter and good conversations, instead of stressful ones, like the news or a work deadline.
Enjoy the process
We aren’t nutritionists and won’t pretend to be. But we all know what we’re supposed to do: eat more whole, real food and less processed ones. That means cooking. As you prep your meal, pay attention to each step in the process. Take a moment as you use each ingredient to think about where it came from and how it came to be in your kitchen. Appreciate what that particular ingredient will contribute to your meal, and ultimately, your health.
If this seems like a stretch, remember the goal is to build a habit of awareness. Keep it simple and use each of your five senses as you meal prep instead. Notice how it feels when you rinse the vegetables or the sound of water boiling.
It’s a lot easier to be engaged when you’re excited about what you’re making. Find some tried-and-true recipes that you’ll look forward to cooking. Chill’s own Claire Mark authored Cooking with a yogaview, written to not only bring more whole foods into your kitchen, but to do so with mindfulness.
Savor the flavor
Let’s celebrate our love of food! Why would we (because we do, more than we care to admit) want to shovel food in our mouths while we’re flying around town? Give this deliciousness the respect it deserves.
The most common mindful eating strategy is to slow down. Take your time enjoying your meal. Put your fork down, take three deep breaths between each bite, and chew each one 15 times. Notice the texture. Is it crunchy / dry / grainy? How does it taste? Are the flavors salty / sweet / sour? Put those 10,000 taste buds to use.
Whatever tactics you employ, the point is to pay attention. Don’t inhale your food - it isn’t going anywhere. And when you’re engaged in the process of eating, you’ll never realize 20 minutes into a TV show that ⅔ of a bag of chips is gone.
Holiday weight creep
This seems to start earlier every year, but we always know it’s coming. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that, while half of what you gain between now and New Year’s will drop off quickly, the rest will hang on until summer. Instead of indulging in everything during your holiday festivities, be picky. Choose to indulge in special foods you can’t get any other time. Mashed potatoes can be ordered at any steakhouse in Chicago, but you only get your aunt’s stuffing and yams once a year.
The more you pay attention to what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be. When your system tells you it needs pumpkin pie next Thursday, have the pie. But be conscious about it from start to finish.
The Chill team wishes you a very happy and delicious Thanksgiving! Stay tuned for more mindful eating and nutrition workshops at our studio.