EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of the Total Force Wellness Column, this article is written by the Human Performance Resources by CHAMP at the Uniformed Services University
Food is about so much more than just meeting nutritional needs, performance requirements, or weight goals. Sure, we eat because we’re hungry. But we also eat when we’re tired, stressed, happy, or rewarding ourselves. Sometimes we eat to celebrate or because we’re guests and it feels rude not to. Also, we may sometimes eat past feeling satisfied or full because the food tastes good.
So, when you decide to lose weight, start by acknowledging that sometimes you eat based on social, cultural, or life circumstances. When you begin to think more about your eating habits, being more mindful about when, where, why, and how you eat can help you meet your weight-loss goals. Mindful eating is an increasingly popular weight-loss strategy that can help you identify hunger and fullness cues, emotional eating, and other roadblocks to healthy eating.
Mindless eating happens for most of us on a daily basis. It usually involves eating while we are:
- Distracted (reading, texting, watching TV, etc.)
- On auto-pilot (eating out of a bag/box), or
- Bombarded by options (buffet, potlucks, parties, office food).
Sometimes, most of us go into auto-pilot around food. Have you ever driven somewhere and not remembered part of the drive? Have you ever opened a bag of cookies or chips and then realized you’d eaten more than you’d planned?
Mindful eating is the opposite of mindless eating and focuses on being fully aware of your eating experience, including your:
- Senses—how food looks, smells, tastes, and feels
- Stomach—how hungry or full you feel
- Mind—whether you like or dislike a particular food/flavor; noticing food cravings
- Surroundings—how comfortable or uncomfortable you are in your eating environment (or aware of it at all).
Ready to practice?
To try mindful eating for yourself, follow along with these recordings:
Topic: Introduction to mindful eating
Title: Mindful Eating Raisins (audio)
Time: 6 minutes, 13 seconds
A classic exercise to try mindful eating is to eat raisins very slowly. It might seem goofy to take two minutes to eat a teeny raisin, or maybe you don’t even like raisins. That’s okay. Try to focus on how the recording guides you to use all your senses and really notice your food. Use two small pieces of chocolate instead of raisins if you prefer!
Topic: Mindfully eating a meal
Title: Mindful Eating (audio)
Time: 5 minutes, 42 seconds
This recording, which takes place in a military dining facility, guides you through mindfully eating a meal from start to finish. It gives you reminders for checking-in with your senses before, during, and after bites.
Trying mindful eating
Use the guidance in the recordings to practice eating foods mindfully. For a day, begin each of your meals and snacks with a few very slow, mindful bites. Try holding the food in your mouth without chewing immediately. It can feel awkward at first, but new habits often feel uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you. Also, be proud of yourself for trying something new! There’s no “wrong” way to eat mindfully; like any skill, it takes practice.
You can also use the following prompts as reminders of what to pay attention to when you eat:
- Appearance: What do you notice about the food?
- Smell: What does the food smell like?
- Flavor: Is it sweet, sour, salty, or some combination?
- Feeling or texture: Is the food crunchy, smooth, sticky, or soft?
- Satisfaction: Do you feel good about what you just ate?
- Preference: Do you like the particular food?
Is it working?
Notice if you enjoy your food more or less when you eat mindfully.
- Did you notice any new flavors in an old familiar food?
- Did you learn of a flavor or texture that you didn’t realize previously liking or disliking?
- Did you eat less?
- Did you eat the rest of your meal more slowly than usual?
- Did this exercise change your experience of the entire meal, even once you started eating at a more normal pace, or did it only affect those few slow bites?
For more information on mindful eating, read The Center for Mindful Eating’s Why Mindful Eating?