Mindful eating involves the mind, heart, and spirit at mealtime. Discover and practice!

Mindful eating: how to be at peace with food

Eating delicious food while enjoying good company is one of life's great pleasures. However, there are factors that can spoil such moments, as delight is overcome by concern when people break their diet. A solution for those who wish to enjoy such moments without a heavy heart involves the idea of attaining a state of full attention, i.e., mindfulness. Discover and enjoy the festivities, the ideal time to sit at the table and enjoy all the moments with friends and loved ones.

The concept of mindful eating

Mindful eating offers to involve the heart, mind, and spirit when savoring a meal. It is a mindful concept of nutrition, a Buddhist meditation practice that focuses being completely in the moment without judgment. That includes during end-of-year parties, which can–and should–be enjoyable, especially for those looking to maintain their weight or diet.

According to nutritionist Anne Albano, mindful eating drives one to adopt full attention practices. "This includes conscious eating actions, which means having a meal with full attention on the moment and without judgment, guilt, or based on convictions and timetables, introducing the individual to a good relationship with food," he explains.

Anne also uses the end-of-year parties as an example: "Having a meal on one or two nights at the end of the year with those you love and celebrate with delicious foods, with emotional and affective value, will not affect your health, slimming process, muscle mass maintenance or gain. Enjoying these moments, without worrying, by eating the supper can help a person become healthier and facilitate the process of maintaining their habits''.

Mindful eating in practice

Para manter o equilíbrio e a tranquilidade diante os alimentos e bebidas fornecidos das festas de final de ano, praticar o mindful eating é uma das estratégias que mais pode nos ajudar. Atenção plena ao comer, é estar ciente de seus sentimentos e mecanismos de pensamento. Estar presente no momento - e realmente apreciar cada pedaço de comida. Parece não ser fácil, mas deixamos algumas dicas para que consiga:

Before you eat, ask yourself: “Am I hungry?"

Hunger is how your body tells you that energy levels are getting low and it's time to replenish. Hunger is caused by:

  • low blood sugar
  • empty stomach and intestine
  • hormonal changes

However, feeling hungry or having strong cravings for food can also be caused by things like boredom, anxiety, and stress.

Being aware that situations or feelings usually trigger a feeling of hunger or craving for food can help determine whether you are really hungry and need to replenish your body, or if you are being driven to eat for other reasons.

Take a break for a moment and consider the answer to this question. If you're really hungry, eat! Your goal is not to eat less, but to stop eating when the hunger subsides. To do this, concentrate on using food for its intended purpose: nutrition.

If you notice that what you are feeling is not really hunger, try to find the real cause; pay more and better attention to yourself and your emotions. Drinking a glass of water or a cup of tea can help to stall the meal a bit, or even better, take a short walk to give us time to understand ourselves better before eating without noticing, without attention and control.

Eliminate distractions

While you eat, avoid using your phone or computer, do not read books or magazines, and keep the TV switched off. Whether working during lunch or eating French fries while watching Netflix, it is common to be distracted while eating. However, while it may seem harmless, you usually finish eating without remembering what you ate, what it tasted like, whether you liked it or not, and the amount you ingested, which may encourage you to eat too much.

Connect with your food

It's easy to rush through meals without enjoying the food on your plate. Considering the origin of the foods that nourish your body, you can make better decisions for your health and the planet.

Before you eat your meals and snacks today, ask yourself this:

  • Where did this food come from? If you're not sure, fine.
  • Did that food have to travel a long distance to get to your plate?
  • What was used in growing your food? How long did it take?

With this simple full attention exercise, you can better understand how you are connected or disconnected to how your food is produced. To develop a deeper connection with your food, try cooking your own meals, buying locally grown food, and learning more about the origin of each food.

Use your eyes

Seeing the beauty of a well-served dish and each of its ingredients can increase your appreciation and interest in food. It' s no wonder love begins with the eyes, as does hunger. When preparing or before eating your meals, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the ingredients of your meal?
  • What colors do you see on your plate?
  • Do you think this meal looks good? Does it make your mouth water just by looking? Whenever you can, try to make your meals and snacks visually attractive with brightly colored spices, herbs, vegetables or fruits.

Use your sense of smell

Smell and taste are intimately related. The smell of food plays an important role in the satisfaction and joy we feel when eating. Feel the aroma of your meal before you start eating. Close your eyes and ask the following questions to enhance your sense of smell even further:

  • What smells come from this dish? Can you recognize the different ingredients by smell?
  • Does the smell of the food leave you hungrier?
  • Is one particular smell overwhelming or can you smell the individual components of the meal?

If you could only smell the meal, not see it, would you still be interested in eating it?

While eating

Time is key to mindful eating. However, contrary to what some people think, there is no need to have endless meals: just 20 minutes per meal is enough. Eating a little more slowly helps us to better appreciate our food, reactions, and decisions during and about our eating habits.

Be aroused by the textures

Before you start chewing, consider these questions:

  • How does the food feel inside your mouth?
  • Does it have a consistent or soft texture?
  • How hot or cold is the food?
  • Is it easy to bite or do you have to break it when chewing?
  • How do you feel about the texture of your food?

Tips to eat slower

  • Take a break and rest your fork on the table between each bite;
  • As you eat, keep an eye on your breathing, and chew several times until you have crushed all the food well.
  • After a few forks of food, try to eat less per fork than when you started;

If it is very difficult to slow down during the meal; try to eat slowly in the first five minutes.

Observe your emotions as you eat

Many believe there is a direct connection between emotions and eating (eating in response to stress, sadness, anxiety, agitation or other feelings). Mindful eating helps not only to understand the kinds of emotions surrounding our relationship with food but also how we may be using food to deal with certain feelings.

Ask yourself these questions before you start eating:

  • Does this meal raise any emotion(s)? If so, which ones?
  • Why do you think those emotions emerge? (It's okay if you don't have a definitive answer, but try to find some reasons why you might be feeling this way)
  • Are you eating this meal because you feel sad, stressed or overwhelmed?

There are no strict rules for this exercise. Just try your emotions in relation to the food. Regardless of what you feel, try not to judge yourself. The goal of this activity is to develop greater awareness of your emotional responses to food and gain a clearer understanding of how feelings can drive you to eat.

I overdid it, now what?

If you overdo it, don't impose too many restrictions and punishments on yourself. “Don't overtrain, don't do long periods of fasting to compensate, respect and listen to your body. Don't start a crazy diet on your own, just remember that tomorrow is a new day so return to your healthy habits as usual," Anne advises.

After all, mindful eating is not about compensation, it is about balance. “Don't think of food as a prize or punishment. The dishes and nutrients must be tasted with all the calm they deserve. It is important to take this moment to remember how they reached your table, to understand why you are eating a given mean, why you chose it, and the emotions involved,” she concludes.