I've written about mindful eating and the first steps you can take to be more mindful back in November.
This month is a great time to continuing the discussion on this topic since it is Nutrition Month and mindful eating is part of the theme. This year the focus is on the fact that healthy eating is "more than food" meaning, how we eat and interact with food plays a role in our wellbeing too- an angle that hardly gets the recognition it deserves!
A few months ago on the blog, I touched on taking a moment to tune into your thoughts and emotions as well as what is happening around you while eating to help you be more present (in the moment) and better able to hear your hunger and fullness cues. Apart from simply observe your environment and your thoughts & emotions, perhaps the MOST important philosophy of mindfulness is being aware of all these things without criticizing or judging yourself.
For example, you are feeling stressed at your desk at work and want to eat your lunch but it’s only 10 am and you are not hungry. Rather than judging yourself and thinking: “what is wrong with me? I just had breakfast! How am I supposed to get through the day if all I want to do it eat!?”, try understanding the situation and how it is affecting you - “I am feeling stressed which usually pushes me to eat. Also, my stress is mounting with the constant chiming of emails. What I need to do is decrease my stress and food won’t do that…but a small walk to the bathroom might help me relax”.
Judging yourself for wanting to eat when not hungry, feeling hungry or too full makes listening and interpreting harder to do. It can be helpful to set aside the criticizing and judgment of food and weight for a few days to understand how freeing it is to live without them. In fact, shaming ourselves for wanting to eat does a terrible job at motivating us to make healthy changes and can make tuning into our body's signals even harder. Mindful eating is great at helping us better listen to the wisdom our body has about the nourishment it needs.
There are many ways you can practice listening and interpreting hunger and fullness signals. The first place to start is with a simple question before engaging in eating: Am I hungry?
Before reaching for a snack or sitting down to a meal, find a quiet place (ideally away from food) to check in with your body’s hunger level. It may help to write out a list of physical sensations you have when hungry (vs experiencing a craving) and use it at this moment of checking in. The more you practice checking in with head hunger (ex. cravings or appetite) vs stomach hunger (the need for energy), the easier and more intuitive it becomes.
It can be hard to hear subtle hunger cues and if you are anything like me, you may like a step by step guidance through this new eating territory. Practice listening for the cues before eating by following these steps:
- Move away from the food or do this exercise before coming into contact with food such as before walking into the restaurant, kitchen or party. You can do this in your car, in the bathroom or in another room of your house.
- Calm down by taking a few deep breaths.
- Connect with your body and physical sensation. Place a hand on your abdomen and picture your stomach. How full is it? How empty is it?
- Ask yourself “Am I hungry?” “What physical hunger/fullness sensations am I feeling?”
- Observe if there are any other physical signals or sensation? (ex. feeling edgy, weak, tired, thirsty?).
- Notice your thoughts in this moment. Are you feeling guilty or ashamed? Berating yourself for something you ate earlier? Feeling uncomfortable in your body?
- Beware of any negative thoughts you may have about food and your body and let them go before eeating. Try finding a mantra that helps you ket go of these thoughts, something like "all food is nourishing" or "I deserve nourishment" or "I may not love my body & size, but my body helps me do things that bring me joy".
If identifying hunger comes easy to you, then try this bonus step: if you are hungry, start to evaluate how hungry you are using a mindfulness hunger scale. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 means starving or ravenous and 10 means so stuffed you feel sick, try to determine what level your hunger is at before eating. This can be used as a guide for the amount of food you may need in this moment.