Eating with Mindfulness

FuelED® with Jared

“Pizza is here!” My mom yells up the stairs. Like the start of a sprint, my six siblings and I dash out of our bedrooms. I grab as much pizza as I can (while eating a slice and throwing some elbows). I know that if I don’t act fast, it may be gone. When I was a kid, I always focused on quantity when eating. I tried to eat fast so I could get second helpings, and get back to what I was doing. I thought that food satisfaction came from quantity rather than quality. Did I even breathe when I ate? Maybe. Did I even taste what I was eating? Maybe. Did I usually eat way too much and not realize it until after? Yes. 

The environment and people in our lives certainly play a role in how we eat. For Jared’s childhood, it was a competitive sibling rivalry for that pepperoni or stuffed crust. What about your environment? Is there something or someone affecting the way you eat? Brian Wansink, author of, “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” studies eating behaviors. In one of his experiments, he shows that people eat 45% more popcorn if they are given an extra-large container compared to a large container at a movie theater. He also showed that people eat 2.2 more candies each day if the candies were visible on their desk instead of not-visible (in a jar or drawer). Isn’t it amazing how such small differences can mean significantly more or less calories? Think about your home environment. Do you eat off of large or small plates? Are your cups tall and skinny or short and round? Where is your fruit? Is it hiding in a drawer in the fridge or in a bowl on the table? Are the chips in a cupboard or out on a counter? What about at work? Do you walk by the vending machine every time you go to the bathroom?

Mindfulness of the environment that influences our food choices and our internal hunger cues can help. Try to use mindfulness for the things you can control in your environment. Think about a highway billboard picturing a pumpkin spice latte that is now available. We can’t control it being on the side of the highway on our way to work. What we can control, however, is how we react to that sign. Ask yourself, “am I truly hungry right now?” Listen to your stomach; is it growling or still full from lunch? What about your emotions—are you sad, stressed or pissed off at that guy who just cut you off? Do you want to buy it just to take a selfie with it?

Being mindful of your environment can help you make changes to positively affect your eating habits. Mindfulness disables distractions and cultivates consciousness. Mindfulness brings a greater awareness to your natural hunger cues and the reasons you are eating. It helps to keep those extra calories where they belong, stored in boxes on a shelf—rather than adipocytes (fat cells) around your waist. With practice, it will increase your curiosity about food and help you with difficult food decisions. An added bonus: food tastes better! When you take the time to appreciate and notice the food you are eating, you train your preferences towards quality, not quantity—meaning fewer calories.

So, how do I practice mindfulness? Think about the last time you ate a peach. Now, I mean really ate a peach—using all your senses. Did you notice the texture, the fuzziness on the outside? How about the firmness? Do you recall the sweet, ripe smell and the juicy, nectar taste? Can you imagine that taste right now? Was the peach cold or warm? Big or small? Round or oval? Were there any blemishes or bruises? Was it red, orange, yellow—or peach color? Take some time to experiment; pick any food and apply all of your senses; take your time and savor it. Practice this mindfulness daily and reap the sweet, sweet benefits. 

More mindfulness resources: