In today’s society, meals are often eaten in a second-nature manner—in front of the couch while watching a TV show, from a bag while driving from one place to another, or at your desk while trying to do three things at once. This approach to eating, while common, creates a passive and mindless relationship with food and mealtime.
On the other hand, mindful eating is the exact opposite of the above examples. A relatively new trend, mindful eating transforms this mindless relationship with food and turns dining into an experience rather than just another task on our to-do list.
HarborChase Senior Living offers independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities throughout the United States and aims to create elevated dining experiences for residents and guests. We have created this guide to help you understand more about mindful eating, how it can be beneficial, and how to incorporate it into your life.
What is Mindful Eating?
According to Mindful Communications, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing (mindful.org).” Mindful eating takes this practice and applies it to food, meaning that we’re bringing full attention and awareness to our thoughts, sensations, and feelings while eating.
Mindful eating is not about counting calories or restricting certain foods from your diet; it’s simply about focusing on how you prepare, consume, and experience food.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating can present many benefits to those who incorporate it into their lives. While its purpose is not to help people lose weight, that does tend to be an unintentional side effect. By slowing down and focusing on what you eat and when you eat, it’s not uncommon to eat less, resulting in several other benefits—controlled blood sugar, enhanced heart health, and improved gut health.
In addition to physical health benefits, mindful eating can serve other benefits, as well. Mindful eating can create a healthier relationship with food—increasing the variety of foods you eat, allowing you to handle cravings more responsibly, promoting a healthier response to stress, and overall creating a healthier physiological response to food and eating.
How to Practice Mindful Eating
You don’t have to be an expert at mindfulness (or cooking!) to incorporate mindful eating into your life. Though it can be challenging for some people to get used to, so it can be helpful to start with small changes. Here are some basic steps to begin practicing mindful eating:
- Make a weekly meal plan. One of the issues with “mindless eating” is not knowing what you’re going to have for your next meal, which can cause snacking or last-minute decisions to run to the drive-thru. By planning your meals for the week, you can prepare yourself (logistically and mentally) for what you’re going to be cooking and eating.
- Sit down at the table for all meals. It can be tempting to eat your meals at your desk or in front of the TV, but this can lead to distracted and mindless eating. While eating, turn off all distractions and sit at the table. If it helps, you can make the experience stand out by setting the table or lighting a candle!
- Eat slowly, and focus on the flavors, sensations, and textures of your food. Take small bites and chew each one thoroughly, allowing yourself to wholly experience how the meal activates your senses. Notice the smells, shapes, colors, and even the sound of your meal. As you do this, you’ll find that you automatically eat more slowly.
- Pay attention to your body. Stay present and listen to your body’s signals as you eat your meal. Notice if you feel yourself getting full or becoming satisfied. If you do, take a few minutes without taking a bite to see if you are done eating.
Try these additional tips to practice mindful eating:
- If you find it difficult to eat slowly, eat with your non-dominant hand or set down your utensils between every bite.
- Start by serving yourself a smaller portion, and only get seconds if you don’t feel full.
- Try these practices with just one meal to start with.
- Every time you open the fridge or pantry to grab a snack, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”, “Why am I really eating right now?”
- Each time you eat, give gratitude and reflect on everything that had to happen for you to eat the food in front of you.
Mindful eating is a valuable practice that can transform your relationship with food and the way you dine—resulting in physical and psychological benefits. While it might be unrealistic to assume you can eat mindfully for every bite of every meal, it can still be transformative to observe your current eating habits and incorporate some of the mindful eating habits into your daily routine.
HarborChase Senior Living has independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities throughout the United States. At our communities, we offer an elevated dining experience that engages and delights all the senses while providing nourishment to residents and guests.
For more resources on senior health and wellness, visit our HarborChase blog!