Today I have the luxury of working from home. I sit at my dining room table with my laptop and a blank word document, ready to write an article. Ten minutes pass. Uninspired to write, and now a little bit bored, I head to the kitchen and poke around for something to eat. After eating some yogurt from the container and a small handful of raisins, I return to my laptop. As expected, the snack did not cure my writer’s block, and my daily food intake just went up by about 200 unnecessary calories.
One of the foundational habits in our nutrition coaching programs at Ascend Fitness Inc. is mindful eating. I know first hand that eating mindfully is not always automatic, and it takes practice.
Mindful eating simply means being fully aware of the food you are eating and eating for the right reasons. Mindful eating means portioning your food onto your dinner plate, sitting down and enjoying each bite of food. Chewing slowly, taking your time, being aware of the textures, are all good practices of mindful eating. If you are busy, and hurry through your meal so you can get back to work or another activity you can still eat ‘mindfully’. As long as you portioned out your meal are aware of what you ate, you can count it as mindful eating.
Mindless eating, on the other hand, is eating for reasons other than fueling your body and satisfying hunger. Everyday, we are presented with endless opportunities to eat. Our pantries and cupboards are stocked; the grocery store or coffee shop may offer samples; there may be leftovers from your kid’s dinner.
A lick of peanut butter when making your kid’s lunch or a small handful of chocolate chips may not seem like much, but it all adds up. And while you miss out on the important physical and psychological enjoyment of eating, your body doesn’t know the difference between eating the crumbs and eating a proper meal or snack. Even though you’ve given your body enough fuel, you’ll still want more food! Like most things in life worth doing, eliminating mindless eating takes work. Below are six steps to stop mindless eating:
1. Keep a food journal. Record absolutely everything that goes into your mouth. Even if it’s just two Smarties that managed to find their way to your lips (those sneaky Smarties!), write it down. As insignificant as a small morsel of food may be, tracking it creates awareness of the food you eat. The trick to successful food journaling is not to apply any judgment to your food choices. In other words, do not only write down your eating on days when you’re ‘good’. Write down everything. The goal is to simply create awareness, not to be the food police.
2. Plan your meals ahead of time. Again, you don’t need to obsessively plan every single portion of food you’re going to consume, but have a general outline. A plan is especially helpful to prevent going too long without eating. If you get to the point when you’re overly hungry, it will be a bit more challenging to sit down and enjoy your food mindfully!
3. Make sure that everything and anything you eat is from your own plate or bowl. This is a simple way to eliminate ‘opportunity eating’- eating just because food is in front of you. This also means you’ll say good bye to taking a few handfuls of chips from the bowl on the coffee table or eating appies straight from the tray. Instead, you are forced to portion out a serving on a plate so you’re aware of how much you are consuming.
4. Eat according to the clock and your hunger. Waiting too long to eat makes sticking to an eating plan very difficult. Eat before you become grumpy, light headed, or cannot focus to eat. At the same time, if you are used to going all day without eating and you don’t get hungry, eat according to the clock. Your body will soon become accustomed to eating frequently and start showing signs of hunger.
5. Take 5-10 slow breaths before you eat. Even if you’re not able to sit down and eat your meal without distractions, taking a few breaths will bring your attention to the food you’re about to eat.
6. Build a support network. Having support may be the most important step in combatting mindless eating. Check in with a coach, or accountability partner on a regular basis to keep you heading in the right direction.
Like any new skill, resisting mindless eating takes persistence and practice. Focus on progress, not perfection! For a more in depth lesson on mindful eating, listen to episode 5 of the Fit and Vibrant You Podcast at www.tanjashaw.com/5.
Tanja Shaw is a health and fitness coach, Rotarian, passionate entrepreneur, mom, runner, and owner of Ascend Fitness Inc. and host of the Fit & Vibrant You Podcast. Tanja and her team of expert fitness coaches inspire and coach others to become stronger, more confident and energetic versions of themselves. Visit Tanja at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com and www.tanjashaw.com.