It’s easy to think that eating healthy means eating ‘good for you’ foods. But as much as it’s about what you put into your body, it’s also about how you do it.
Consider the last meal you had. More than likely, it was consumed while catching up on emails, at your desk working, or watching the evening news or your latest Netflix binge. It’s become normal to multitask by eating while doing other things — but it’s not necessarily a healthy way to do things. This is where conscious eating comes into play.
What Is Conscious Eating?
Conscious eating — also known as mindful eating — is not about being restrictive or following any specific kind of diet. It emphasizes experiencing food. Rather than bringing forkful after forkful of pasta (or cake, or anything else you love) to your mouth because you’re hungry, eating mindfully asks you to put your fork down after one bite and take time to savor it. Chew it, feeling the textures and tasting all the flavors. Then do the same for you next bite and continue that way for the entire meal.
The idea of mindful or conscious eating goes back to Buddhist teachings, which encourage students to meditate with food by paying attention to the sensation and purpose of every bit. It’s become popular in recent years as people seek a way to drop into themselves and become more aware — and as obesity rates rise. In general, the practice consists of:
- Eating slowly, without any distractions, and noticing the colors, smells, textures, and tastes in your food
- Appreciating your food
- Becoming aware of the effects of food on how you feel
- Paying attention to the body’s hunger cues and eating only until full
- Learning to tell the difference between real hunger and other triggers for eating
- Eating to maintain overall health and well being
Conscious Eating Benefits
One of the most obvious benefits to this practice is that it forces you to eat slower. Eating quickly has been linked to binge eating, overeating, and an inability to distinguish when the body is full, and slowing down helps address all of these issues. People who eat mindfully tend to eat less, maintain a more optimal weight, and experience more efficient digestion.
The practice of conscious eating also helps you become more attuned to your body and its signals. You’ll start to understand whether those hunger pangs you’re feeling are real, or whether you’re being triggered by something else (like boredom, for example). You’ll also start to notice how foods affect your body — things like feeling bloated after a meal, getting sluggish and tired, or experiencing headaches. These are all signs that perhaps something you’re eating isn’t working for you.
Finally, mindful eating can reduce stress. And this makes sense, considering it’s used in Buddhism as a form of meditation. Studies show that eating consciously triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response in the body, helping you calm down and enter a more peaceful state of mind.
How to Eat More Consciously
Conscious eating can feel intimidating and slightly confusing at times. What exactly are you supposed to be thinking about or focusing on as you eat? Psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Susan Albers notes that it helps to start becoming aware of four key areas and ask yourself these questions:
- Mind: Am I tasting each bite or am I ‘zoned out’ while eating?
- Body: How does my body feel before and after I eat? Is my stomach grumbling? Do I feel full? Am I bloated?
- Feelings: How do I feel about the food I’m eating? Guilty? Pleasure? Regret?
- Thoughts: What kind of thoughts does this food bring to mind? Fears, beliefs, memories, etc.
Creating an intentional eating space can also be beneficial. Rather than eating at your desk or in front of the TV, find a comfortable place without interruptions or distractions and enjoy your meals there.
Be sure to check in with yourself every so often and notice how you’re feeling and whether you’re starting to feel that ‘full’ sensation.