A Guide for Mindful Eating

When beginning to explore mindfulness and mindful eating, ask yourself the following.

  • Are we rushed?
  • Are we being mindful?
  • Are we distracted?
  • Are we sneaking away to eat?

Mindful eating is a practice that encourages us to reevaluate our relationship with food. Many times, we eat without much thought or awareness. Mindful eating welcomes us to be fully present during meals, savoring each bite and engaging our senses. It’s about cultivating awareness of our hunger, making conscious choices, and creating and nurturing a connection with our bodies. Through this guide, we will explore the guidelines of mindful eating that have been shared by Jan Chozen Bay, MD in her book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.

Six Guidelines for Mindful Eating

First Guideline: Slow it down – Avoid the three Gs – Gobble, Gulp, and Go

Are you taking the time to fully experience and appreciate the flavors, textures, and aromas of the food you eat? Try to slow it down and engage all your senses in the process of eating.

Actions that can aid in eating slowly:

  • Make a point of pausing
  • Chew many times
  • Drink slowly
  • Put the fork or spoon down
  • Eat with chopsticks

Avoid the three Gs – Gobble, Gulp, and Go

“The technique was dubbed “the three G’s” for “gobble, gulp, and go.” A Tennessee historian records that a European visiting the colonies was puzzled by the “haste, hustle, and starving attitude the inn frequenter displayed. Everyone stuffed himself at uncanny speeds.” Another visitor “was amazed that in barely twenty minutes he had witnessed two series of meals in his hotel.” Our propensity to eat and run has not diminished over the intervening two centuries. Research shows that North Americans spend only eleven minutes eating lunch at a fast food restaurant and thirteen minutes at a cafeteria in their workplace.”

Mindful Eating with Jan Chozen Bays – Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

Second Guideline: The Right Amount

This involves tuning in to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness and aiming for a state of “just enough” rather than overeating or undereating. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely hungry and 10 being overly full, it is recommended to stop eating when you reach a level of 5-6. This allows room for comfortable digestion and prevents the discomfort associated with overeating.

This concept is actually something that is found in the blue zone in Okinawa, Japan. It’s called Hara Hachi Bu. It translates to “eat until you are 80% full.” This cultural wisdom encourages moderation and stopping eating before feeling full.

Blue Zone reference from Okinawa of Hara Hachi Bu: Stop eating when you’re 80% full

Third Guidelines: Energy Equation 

Mindful eating includes being aware of the energy equation. This includes an understanding of the caloric content and nutritional value of the foods you consume. It encourages making conscious choices that support a balanced energy intake and expenditure.

By being mindful of the energy equation, you can strive to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods that provide the necessary energy and nourishment your body needs while also engaging in regular physical activity to maintain a healthy weight and promote overall vitality.

Fourth Guideline: Mindful Substitution

Mindful substitutions reference making conscious and intentional choices to replace some food options with more nourishing alternatives. It involves being aware of the nutritional value of different foods and making choices that support your well-being.

Mindful substitution can include:

  • Choosing single-ingredient foods: Opting for fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Finding alternatives: Seeking out substitutes for ingredients or dishes. For example, using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, or baking instead of frying.
  • Experimenting with flavors and textures: Try using different herbs, spices, and seasonings to enhance the taste of healthier options, making them more satisfying and enjoyable.
  • Mindfully indulging: If you have a craving for a certain food, try to satisfy it with a smaller portion size.
  • New Recipes: Trying new recipes with simple ingredients can contribute to a more mindful approach to eating and support your health and well-being.

Fifth Guideline: Out of sight, out of mind

“Out of sight, out of mind” references the principle of conditioning and highlights the idea that when we do not reinforce certain behaviors or habits, they may weaken over time. This suggests that removing or reducing visual cues that can help reduce mindless eating and cravings. It reduces the tendency to rely on visual cues and external triggers for eating, allowing individuals to focus on hunger, fullness, and nourishing choices.

This can involve organizing your kitchen and pantry in a way that prioritizes options and minimizes the visibility of foods that may be tempting but not align with your nutritional goals. By keeping certain food items out of sight, such as storing them in closed cabinets or moving them to less accessible areas, it becomes easier to resist the impulse to eat them. 

Sixth Guideline: Loving-kindness 

The concept of loving-kindness towards the inner critic is a practice of self-compassion. The inner critic refers to the internal voice or self-talk that can be critical, judgmental, and harsh towards oneself. Instead of allowing the inner critic to dominate our thoughts and emotions, the practice of loving-kindness involves cultivating a compassionate and gentle attitude towards ourselves, including towards our inner critic.

Engaging in meditation practice can be a valuable tool in navigating the inner voices and thoughts that arise around eating. By dedicating time to meditation, we develop the ability to observe our thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. Loving-Kindness Meditation: Definition, Techniques, & Benefits

Being an observer allows us to cultivate a sense of detachment from the inner critic and other negative self-talk that may arise during the eating process. Instead of allowing these thoughts to dictate our actions, we can acknowledge their presence and then let them go, recognizing that they do not serve our current needs. Tips for practicing self-compassion by Dr. Kristen Neff

Through regular meditation practice, we become more skilled at recognizing and disengaging from unhelpful thoughts and self-critical patterns. This allows us to approach eating with greater self-awareness and self-compassion, making choices that align with our true needs and well-being.

Ready to get started now?

Mindful eating encompasses being present during meals and the surrounding environment and invites us to embrace a slower, more deliberate enjoyment of food. The six guidelines outlined above give you a way through with practical steps. By slowing down and avoiding the “three Gs” – gobble, gulp, and go, we can engage all our senses in the process of eating and truly savor each bite. Tuning into our body’s signals of hunger and fullness, we aim for a state of “just enough,” fostering a balanced energy intake and expenditure.

Mindful substitution empowers us to make conscious choices that support our well-being by opting for foods we desire to include and experimenting with flavors and textures. And “Out of sight, out of mind” encourages us to reduce mindless eating by eliminating visual cues that trigger impulsive food choices. Finally, and a place that we simply should not ever forget, the practice of loving-kindness, which involves self-compassion and the gentle treatment of our inner critic. By engaging in meditation and observation, we learn to detach from negative self-talk, enabling us to make eating choices that align with our true needs and desires.

A practice of mindful eating is not merely a dietary change but a shift in our perspective on nourishment and overall well-being. We are working to foster a beneficial relationship with food and ourselves. We may discover an added joy and fulfillment that come from being fully present and conscious during meals. Through the exploration of these six guidelines, you can start your mindful eating practice today!

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