Author: Amanda Mitzel, RN, University Medical Center New Orleans
Carnival season (and let’s be honest, living in New Orleans) can often make mindful eating a hard practice with which to stick. Between king cake, jambalaya and Popeye’s chicken, it seems everyone has food on the brain, but especially between King’s Day and Fat Tuesday.
Although the spirit of Mardi Gras has the power to get people thinking about eating, it does not always promote thinking about what they’re eating.
If you’ve never heard of the term until now, mindful eating is the art of being aware of what you consume. It’s important because eating mindfully brings a steady awareness of our decision-making when it comes to food, encouraging healthy options and habits (while also making sure we aren’t unkind to ourselves if we have the occasional treat).
Mindful eating is not about restricting food. It’s not a diet.
It’s about immersing ourselves in the experience, and it’s easy — not to mention, beneficial. Here’s how:
- It increases your awareness of being full: Being mindful helps us notice when we’ve had enough, so we’re less likely to eat beyond the point of feeling satisfied.
- It helps with identifying triggers: Our tendencies to eat for reasons other than nourishment are brought to light, such as stress eating or eating to comfort an emotion (sadness, anger, grief).
- It aids in identifying habits: We can better see our habits, such as eating out of boredom or always having a certain snack during a particular activity. This awareness can help us challenge our need to always do something a certain way, especially if it’s unhealthy.
- It promotes understanding the need for better coping mechanisms: As we uncover our triggers, we start to clearly see the need to deal with these emotions in a different way. Mindfulness helps give ourselves the space we need to process our feelings in a healthier way, such as breathing exercises, going for a walk, or talking with a friend.
- It inspires you to make smarter food choices: This inspiration comes from a better awareness of how what you choose to fuel yourself affects how you feel. We start to notice the difference in how we feel when we eat a healthy meal versus post-junk food lethargy and anxiety.
So, now you may ask: How can I begin to integrate mindful eating into my everyday life?
Listed below are some tips to consider the next time you eat, whether it’s a healthy snack or that single slice of king cake you’re determined to savor mindfully:
Cut out Distractions
Turn off your TV, your cell phone – anything that will distract you from the food in front of you. Focus fully on the meal if you are alone. If you are with loved ones, minimize distractions to the extent that you can. Immerse yourself in the conversation rather than checking your email or going over the day’s events in your mind.
Savor the Flavors
Enjoy your food! Use all five senses to heighten the experience.
Be aware of any emotions that come up. Do certain foods make you feel upset with yourself? Or do certain emotions cause you to reach for food as a nervous habit? Noticing these tendencies will help you highlight the need to work on managing your stress in other ways, decreasing that knee-jerk reaction to grab for food.
Try your best to keep that feeling of equanimity, no matter what emotions come up. Let those feelings come and go like clouds passing in the sky.
Make sure to slow down and give yourself enough time to notice when you’re feeling full. We often eat past the point of satiety simply because we’re distracted.
Be Kind to Yourself
Remember that this is not restricting yourself. It’s about paying attention and allowing this process to build the presence of mind to make choices that help us feel good about ourselves.
Making healthy choices becomes easier when we quiet down all the distractions around us and within our minds, and starting a mindful eating practice is as simple as giving your full attention to the plate in front of you.
Join me in trying to stay mindful this Carnival season, which will heighten the experience…and it might just keep us from eating the whole cake, too!