Starting with Halloween, the days become one prolonged food-and-sugar smorgasbord, with party after party enticing you to indulge. Instead of resorting to diets and then berating yourself for a lack of discipline, why not try mindful eating–something a growing number of studies suggest is much more effective? Mindful eating is defined as the practice of being present while you consume a snack or meal. Though it sounds simple, it’s not so easy to pull off. What you need is a few pointers to get you started.
Hone your hunger radar
The whirl of holidays, visitors, shopping and parties makes food more attractive, a way to celebrate and connect regardless of your actual appetite. Instead of eating on autopilot, take time to assess your hunger level before loading up—or digging into—a plate of food. Paying attention to your biological hunger cues is the starting point for developing a more intuitive, organic relationship to how much food you consume. Let your hunger consciousness inform what you decide to eat as well as how much.
Slow down and savor
Eating calmly and without distractions makes you more present to the food in front of you. Take note: distractions include reading the newspaper, checking your phone, working at your computer and watching television. Remove these from your eating environment. While you’re at it, sit down. This may be hard to do it at a cocktail party, but make an oath to yourself to sit down for a few minutes to enjoy the food and drinks.
According to Geneen Roth, an author and teacher whose work focuses on using addiction as a path to the inner universe, eating sitting down allows you give food the attention it deserves. She says sitting in a car does not count because your primary focus is driving. Roth says, “When you start paying attention, you can’t help but see what the food is made of and the colors of it. You miss the ecstatic component in eating.” We are also much less likely to feel satiated when we eat quickly, as it takes times for those signals to reach our brain.
Your parents were on to something when they told you to chew your food. The better you chew—most experts strive to get 30 chews out of each bite—the better your digestion. As you break down the food by chewing, your saliva gets in the mix, releasing chemicals that break down food and help the body more effectively absorb nutrients.
Stop when you are full
It’s not enough to know how hungry you are before you start to eat. You need to keep checking in during the meal to determine when you’ve had enough. A great time to pause is when you are halfway through your plate. With this kind of intuitive eating, you may find you are not as hungry as you thought you were or the food has lost its appeal. Instead of dutifully finishing your plate, give yourself permission to eat as much as you want—but no more. If you’re eating because you love the taste but are, in fact, no longer hungry, reassure yourself this is not the last time you will be able to experience that particular flavor profile. (You can also pack it up for later.)
Express your gratitude
Eating is a sensual affair, from how the food tastes to how it looks and smells. Be present for all of it—all the inherent gusto and pleasure that food contains. Then let your gratefulness carry over to your meal’s backstory: the farmers who grew the food, the jobs that enable you to purchase the food, the cook who prepared it, the people who helped set the table and serve it. Feeling and expressing gratitude makes you feel fuller on a visceral level. It helps you get in direct contact with the happiness you crave versus substituting that craving with food. Eating a good meal when you are hungry, knowing when to stop and being grateful for having enough is the ticket to true contentment. And wouldn’t you rather be overjoyed than overstuffed?