In our culture of multi-tasking it becomes commonplace to ignore those cues as lunch is skipped to meet deadlines or tasks are performed during the meal which keeps our focus away from the eating experience. This limits our ability to fully hear the call to eat, the call to stop eating, and to fully experience and enjoy the sensations of eating in order to be fully satisfied from our meal.
Several strategies to develop mindfulness include: eliminating distractions from the mealtime such as reading materials and electronic devices, checking in close to typical meal times to recognize hunger pangs, and to put the fork down while chewing and waiting a minute or two before proceeding with the next bite.
Environmental awareness is a tool we can use to improve our awareness of what triggers eating and food choices. Our environment is full of food cues calling out for us to eat. In fact, it is estimated that we make over 250 food decisions a day, kind of incredible to think about that. Environmental food cues include: food smells, vending machines, pictures of foods, commercials, watching someone eat, and locations that hold special food meanings.
When we become more aware of our environmental food cues we really begin to see the strong influence the environment has our unconscious food choices. For example, I typically go into a lecture room to teach after eating a satisfying lunch. When I arrive to the lecture room I begin teaching and notice a few students eating a snack, I think to myself “oh that looks good, maybe I will get a cookie after lecture.”
When I look in the other direction another student may have a coffee beverage that looks refreshing and my thoughts again go to “that looks good, a coffee drink like that would taste great now.” While these thoughts often go unrecognized or are quickly dismissed, sometimes, especially when we are stressed, have skipped meals, or have inadequate sleep, we accept the cue and seek out food when our body is fully nourished.
On the days when an individual is experiencing more stress or has had inadequate sleep, paying careful attention to how we are responding to environmental cues moves us in the direction of eating more intuitively. Instead of reaching for the food to satisfy sleep deprivation or stress, choose an activity that will satisfy the non-food need of the body such as meditation, coloring, or taking a 20-minute nap break.
Food is such an important component of the human experience. Food not only provides us the sustenance for energy and growth, it is an integral part of our traditions and culture. When we are more mindful and trust the body’s call to be fed and to stop eating then all foods can fit into our lifestyle. The first step to giving ourselves permission to include all foods in our diet is to recognize that our body needs a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources every day.
Eating a variety of food sources allows our body to grow, development, maintain health, and to repair itself. These foods generally makeup about 90 percent of the calorie needs while the other 10% of calories can include “play foods”. Play foods tend to be those foods that are higher in sugar and fat and lower in vitamins and minerals. They are also the foods that often generate feelings of guilt and shame when consumed. Incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives allows us to enjoy these foods without feeling guilt, shame or remorse.
Spring into a new mindset with eating by working towards being more mindful to the full sensory experience of the meal, being aware of the food cues in the environment while including all types of foods. Contact a Registered Dietitian to learn more about intuitive eating, mindfulness, and how all foods can fit into your lifestyle.