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Six Ways to Practice Mindful Eating | Nutrition Month

March is Nutrition Month, the perfect time to focus on healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices! Throughout the month of March, we’ve partnering with Vitality Nutrition‘s Registered Dietitian Courtney Berg to share her best tips to help you improve your overall diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Click here to meet Courtney.

Mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on being fully aware while eating. It focuses on the process of eating rather than placing rules around what to eat. Studies have shown various benefits to mindful eating practices. Some of these benefits include:

  • Making healthier food choices by noticing how different types of foods make you feel.
  • Reduced emotional eating and binge eating by helping you notice when you turn to food for reasons other than physical hunger.
  • Improved digestion by eating slower and activating digestive processes.
  • Enhanced mental well-being and positive mental states.
  • Positive eating attitudes leading to a healthy relationship with food.
  • Potential to improve weight regulation by controlling the quantity of food consumed.

Mindful eating involves observing how food makes you feel and the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction, hunger, and fullness. It requires you to acknowledge and accept rather than judge the feelings, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that influence your food choices. In this article, we share six ways you can practice mindful eating.

Create a mindful eating environment

 Create a mindful environment by eliminating distractions that disconnect you from being fully present while eating. Some ways to create a mindful eating environment include:

  • Put away electronics devices such as phones, laptops, or TV to be fully present while consuming a meal or snack
  • Step away from your desk to eat in a designated lunch area
  • Clear the table of items unrelated to the meal
  • Take a break from work or school to enjoy your snack distraction-free
  • Avoid eating on-the-go when possible (eg. avoid eating while driving when possible)
  • Schedule time for meals (eg. schedule family supper, a break in your workday, or a meal with friends).
  • Sit-down for a meal or snack instead of nibbling or grazing throughout the day.

Understand your physical hunger signals

Interpreting physical hunger cues can foster a mind-body connection that helps you understand when and how much to eat. Review the common hunger cues below. Which hunger cues do you experience? Notice your hunger cues throughout the day to determine when to fuel your body with a meal or snack!

  • Growling stomach
  • Empty feeling in stomach
  • Increased thoughts around food
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood changes (eg. irritability)
  • Brain fog or headache
  • Urgency to eat
  • Low energy

Ignoring the initial cues that tell you when to eat can build to stronger hunger. Intense physical hunger can lead to urgent or impulsive food choices, eating quickly, or eating past fullness cues. By connecting to the cues that tell you when to eat, you can prevent intense hunger that may negatively impact your ability to make mindful food choices.

Dietitian Tip: Most people benefit from eating every 3-5 hours during the day. For example, if you eat breakfast at 8am, check in with your hunger cues between 11am and 1pm to determine if you’d benefit from fuelling your body with a meal or snack!

Notice your emotions

Mindful eating includes paying attention to your emotions and how they impact your food choices. If you find yourself making an impulsive food choice, take a moment to explore what emotion you may be experiencing. It can be common to reach for food when stressed, overwhelmed, sad, lonely, or bored.

It’s important to acknowledge and accept our emotions without judgment, including the desire to eat when feeling emotional. Food can influence our mood by triggering the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Rather than feeling guilty about these urges, it’s helpful to practice self-compassion and understand that seeking comfort through food is a common response to emotional states!

By approaching our emotions and desires with kindness and understanding, we can better understand our needs in the present moment. This may involve exploring alternative coping mechanisms or making mindful choices about what and how much we eat. Mindfulness practices like being non-judgmental can help us navigate our emotions and behaviors more effectively.

Dietitian Tip: If you find yourself reaching for food when you experience a strong emotion, make a list of strategies you might adopt the next time you experience the desire to eat when emotional. For example, going for a walk, calling a friend, journaling, etc.

Connect to your fullness cues

 Connecting to fullness cues involves being mindful and attentive to your body’s signals during eating. It’s about tuning in to the sensations to determine how much you need to eat to feel satisfied rather than uncomfortably full. Some strategies to help connect with your fullness cues:

  • Eat slowly: Take your time to savor each bite and allow your body to register when it’s becoming full.
  • Pause during meals: Stop eating periodically to assess your level of fullness. Take a moment to ask yourself how satisfied you feel and whether you need more food.
  • Check in with your body: Notice physical sensations such as a feeling of pressure or tightness in your stomach as well as cues like a decrease in interest in food or a feeling of contentment.
  • Serve your food on a plate: When you serve your food onto a plate or into a bowl, you’re more likely to be aware of how much you’re eating compared to when you eat directly from a larger container or package. You can always choose to go back for seconds if you are still hungry!

Dietitian Tip: Add protein, fibre, and healthy fats to your meals. These nutrients send stronger satiety signals to the brain and slow digestion leading to better appetite regulation. In other words, your hunger will emerge more slowly and it will be easier to identify the cues that tell you that you are full!

Connect more deeply to the food on your plate

Reflecting on the origins of our food and expressing gratitude for the entire process from farm to table is a powerful practice in mindful eating. Connecting with your food can include considering where the food came from, reflecting on sustainability and how the food was grown or raised, and expressing gratitude for the nourishment the food provides and for the interconnected web of people, animals, and ecosystems that made it possible.

Bring all of your senses to the meal

 Food can be a sensory experience where you mindfully tune into the smells, tastes, textures, and sounds of cooking and eating. Some sensory practices to explore:

  • Sight: Observe the colors, shapes, and presentation of your food. When possible, take time to prepare a visually appealing meal and appreciate the aesthetics!
  • Touch: Explore the textures of your food. For example, the smoothness of an avocado, the warmth of soup, or of the experience of peeling an orange.
  • Smell: Appreciate the aroma of your food. For example, the smell of freshly baked bread.
  • Taste: Savor the various flavors. Notice the sweetness of fruits, the bitterness of dark chocolate, or the tanginess of yogurt.
  • Sound: Listen to the sounds of your food as you eat. Notice the crunch of fresh vegetables, the sizzle of food added to a frying pan, or the bubbling of a simmering pot.

By incorporating these sensory practices into your eating routine, you can cultivate a deeper appreciation for your food and foster mindful moments!

Meet Courtney Berg, RD, B.Sc. Nutrition

About Courtney  |  Courtney Berg is a Registered Dietitian and completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan in 2016. Her approach to nutrition continues to evolve as she learns and grows with her clients at Vitality Nutrition. However, a holistic approach remains the base of her philosophy with an emphasis on understanding how nutrition as well as sleep, mindset, exercise, and the environment work together to influence whole body health.

About Vitality Nutrition  |  Vitality Nutrition is a collective of Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists supporting clients in Saskatchewan and across Canada! We incorporate a unique and meaningful approach to food, fitness, and performance that empowers clients to build life-long habits and see lasting results.