Think back to when you were a child, were you part of what I like to call the “clean the plate club?” Membership to this club meant that you could not leave the dinner table until your plate was clean and devoid of food, regardless of your appetite. For many of us, eating like this sealed the idea that we must eat everything that is served, or that we are finished eating when our plate is empty. When we eat this way, we become disconnected from how our bodies are feeling and disconnected from our hunger and satiety cues. We may no longer even know if we are hungry or not. Mindful eating can help guide us away from cleaning our plates and get in tune with how we really feel.
Mindful eating means being fully present and aware while you are eating, without distractions like scrolling through social media or watching television, because we tend to eat more when distracted. Mindful eating involves paying attention to the body’s signals, listening to your hunger cues, and satiety cues. It involves paying attention to taste, texture, temperature, and colors and being in tune with your food. Mindful eating is about eating when hungry, and stopping when satisfied, even if there is food still left on the plate. It is about eating slowly and savoring food, taking time to check in with your body and listen to how the body is feeling. How does the body feel when you eat too much? Mindful eating is not about thinking, it’s about feeling.
Often, we eat so fast that we overeat before we realize that we are full. It takes 20 minutes for our brains to “catch up” to our stomachs. That means if we eat more slowly, we have a better chance of eating to satisfaction rather than to the point of being overly full. We can also increase our satisfaction with food if we eat it slowly and mindfully.
If you are unsure if you are truly hungry, this is where the hunger discovery scale is useful. This scale of numbers 1-10 can help get in touch with the body’s inner signals. Think of this scale to help identify your initial hunger when you begin to eat. The neutral point is five, when you are neither hungry, nor full, but satisfied. Visualize the stomach getting emptier and the appetite increasing as you go down the scale to one.
Each time you eat, check your hunger level. Ideally you should be at level four, when you feel the beginning of the signs of the need to eat. If you realize that you are a five or greater, you are not biologically hungry. If you are at a three or lower, you are overly hungry and at risk for overeating.
Responding to the internal cues of hunger and respecting and achieving fullness and/or satiety allows all foods to be part of the diet while achieving and maintaining one’s natural weight. The focal point of mindful eating is to listen to your body and make healthy decisions. It is about taking good care of yourself and choosing to eat food that satisfies and nourishes you. It is about trusting yourself and making peace with food.
If you would like more help with mindful eating and creating a healthy relationship with food, contact the dietitians at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Content submitted by Janyce Gately MS, RD, LDN, CHC