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Have you ever dipped into a bag of chips or cookies while watching TV and without even realizing it, finished the entire bag? Or possibly you’re one that likes to eat at his/her desk, giving more attention to your work than your food. One that I’m guilty of more often than I’d like to admit is eating in the car. All of these scenarios are examples of mindless eating. In other words, eating without giving much thought or attention to what or why we are eating. Essentially the polar opposite of mindful eating.

What Is Mindful Eating?

There is a common misconception that mindful eating is only about eating slowly and enjoying your food. Yes, these are a part of mindful eating but only one piece of the pie. To break things down to the core of what mindful eating is let’s start with the definition of mindful.

To be mindful, in its most basic sense, is to be consciously and presently aware in the moment. So add eating to that definition and you get: to be consciously and presently aware of your eating in the moment. Now let’s expand that definition. Mindful eating extends beyond the conscious awareness around the act of eating. It’s about being aware of all aspects of the eating process such as shopping, food selection, preparation, eating, and reflection on how the food makes us feel.

Mindful eating involves awareness of how the who, what, when, where, why, how, and how much of eating affects the eating process.

Who Are We Eating With!

Who we are eating with often affects what and possibly how much we eat. You may have a certain group of friends that only like to meet at certain restaurants. Or possibly a family member that likes to cook certain types of food for you. Or friends that always have you over for pizza.

I know I eat differently when I’m going out to dinner with my friends and family back home in Indiana than if I meet up with a few dietitian colleagues in Miami. This is primarily because of the types of restaurants that meet the needs of the two different groups. The point here is that the people we surround ourselves with have a pretty big impact on the food choices we make. I’m not saying you have to only hang out with people that lead to healthy choices. Simply be aware of how different people effect your food choices and look for solutions that lead to a reasonably healthy and pleasurable eating experience.

What We Eat!

Being aware of what we eat helps us to make overall healthier choices. Take a moment to read food labels, read ingredients, and just think for a moment about how a food came to be in your grocery store or on your restaurant plate. After pausing to think for a moment about “what” a food item IS, sometimes I decide to move on to something else.

When We Eat!

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that eating an adequate breakfast and not eating too close to bedtime will generally lead to feeling better and typically better food choices. If we skip meals and go long periods without eating we generally don’t feel our best. Being aware of the relationship between when we eat and how we feel is an important piece of mindful eating. If you’ve ever eaten before bed and ended up unable to sleep from heartburn, or skipped breakfast and crashed, then you definitely know what I’m talking about.

Where We Eat!

The office break room, your parent’s house, a favorite restaurant or your dining room table all present very different eating environments and lead to different food choices and behaviors.

Why We Eat!

There are so many reasons “why” we eat but really only a few reasons we should eat. The top reason for eating should be survival which presents itself as hunger. Then of course health iis also a great reason to eat, especially if you have a specific disease or condition your are trying to manage. I also think it’s okay to eat for pleasure as long as we listen to our bodies and don’t eat until we are too full. Often times people eat for many reasons beyond necessity such as boredom, stress, anxiety, procrastination, celebration, and entitlement. Most of the time these scenarios lead to poor food choices and/or overeating.

How We Eat!

This one may leave you saying “hmm”, so let me explain. If you are eating in a rushed manner or while in a stressed state it is easy to skip putting any conscious thought into the eating process, which can lead to poor food choices and overeating. Additionally, eating while rushed and stressed can disrupt the normal digestive process and lead to digestive issues.

How Much We Eat!

Being aware of how much we eat makes a huge impact on our health and waistline. I am generally against having my clients weight and measure all their food. However, I may have them do a one-time measure to find out how much dressing they are actually putting on their salad or how many servings is really on their plate of pasta.

When we become more aware (or mindful) of all of these mindful eating dynamics it opens us up to analyzing the different scenarios and finding ways to bridge any gaps between how we eat in those scenarios and how we would like to eat in order to meet our health and wellness goals.

Dina Garcia, RD, LDN
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