Mindful eating

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

In the age of multitasking, it is unusual to sit down for a meal and to maintain the focus required to notice these feelings, especially with a newborn baby at home. When developing mindful eating skills, it’s especially useful to do nothing else but eat, but if you are a mom, you’ll also often be holding your baby, feeding your baby, talking on the phone, texting, working, watching television or all of the above.

Thinking about whether you’re actually hungry, why you’re eating something and enjoying the taste of your meal may take some practice but it can be done!

Babies are born with the innate ability to know when to eat. They are able to self-regulate their intake and stop when satisfied. Over the ensuing years, many external factors (or triggers) come into play that may disrupt that natural equilibrium. Our environment, culture, family beliefs about food – that have been ingrained in us since childhood – are all factors that have interfered with our ability to self-regulate our food intake.

It is important to recognize your own personal external triggers that prompt you to eat. For example, keeping snack food around the house, eating because it’s a certain time of day, filling up for gas where there is a convenience store, watching TV, seeing a food commercial, feeling a certain emotion (like boredom, stress or sadness) can all lead to eating that is less than mindful.

Recognizing your own triggers and giving yourself time between reaching for food and putting it in your mouth gives you the power to make a mindful eating decision. Read on for how to put mindful eating into practice in the What to Do section below.

What to Do

Assign a designated eating area

When you are home, eat only while seated at this designated eating area. When you’re at work, try to find an alternate designated eating area besides your desk so that you won’t fall right into multitasking. If there is no other good option, then when you’re eating, turn off your computer.

For children, a designated eating area is especially helpful with routines and eliminates some confusion that may link eating to external cues such as watching TV or playing.

Don’t do anything else while eating except conversing with the people you may be seated with and, of course, feeding your baby or child.

If you’re alone, eat and do nothing else. Sit and enjoy your food. Pay attention to the taste and also to how you are feeling at that moment. When you’re with others, children included, still take a moment throughout the meal to notice how you’re feeling and what you’re eating.

Slow down your eating

Set a timer to help stretch your meals to at least 20 minutes. Put your fork down or take sips of water between bites. This can also be your signal to yourself that you are checking in with your feelings.

If eating with friends or family, actively listen and talk more. Use this time to engage and reconnect!

Take 20 minutes to reassess your hunger level before reaching for a second helping

It takes about 20 minutes after eating a meal for the feeling of satiety to register in your brain. Give yourself that time to notice whether you’re actually still hungry or full and satisfied.

Use a hunger scale of 1-10 to assess whether or not you are really hungry

Using the scale will not only help you decide whether you really want to eat because you are hungry, but it will also give you a moment of pause before putting food in your mouth.

Keep a food journal, even if it’s just a few bullets in a notebook or on your phone

Journaling forces you to be mindful of everything that you eat and drink. Include space to write down how you are feeling at the time of each meal, snack or nibble.

Look for eating patterns that exist with your emotions to arm yourself with information so that the next time these emotions arise you can do something other than eat – call a friend, take a walk or read to your baby!