Mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating) is the practice of eating while giving attention to how food impacts your thoughts and sensations. In today’s society, it’s not uncommon for people to eat in their cars, at their desks, or in front of the TV, rather than sit down to a proper meal with family or coworkers. This mindless and disconnected way of consuming food causes us to eat quickly and mindlessly, which can lead to digestive issues as well as overeating and weight gain.
Over the last 20 years, research has proven that practicing mindful eating helps manage food intake, but its benefits go far beyond weight loss. Here are five lesser-known benefits of mindful eating:
1. Creates pauses in your day. When we see eating as an experience rather than a task, we can create breaks throughout the day that will help us unwind. According to Janice Marturano, founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, eating mindfully requires your full attention, and taking a purposeful pause can “punch a hole in the constant business of the day.”
2. Inspires healthier choices. The more conscious you are of what you’re eating, and in turn how that food makes you feel, the less likely you are to choose foods that don’t serve your body any benefits. Rather than begrudgingly choosing a leafy green salad because that’s what your diet dictates, mindful eating will help you make these choices naturally. “Diets don’t work for many of us for a very good reason,” says Jenn Pike, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and STRONG Advisory Board member. “Our feelings, our opinions, and our personal mindset are taken out of the equation; we end up following [a diet’s] orders and guidelines instead of our intuition and gut.” One way to become more mindful about food choices is to ask yourself the following questions before and after meals: How does my body feel before and after I eat? Do I experience low energy? More energy? Bloating? Sadness? What do I feel about this food? Joy? Pleasure? Guilt? Disappointment? Once you determine how certain foods make you feel, you’ll intrinsically reach for those that are associated with more positive experiences.
3. Aids in digestion. To truly be more mindful about food and your relationship with it, it’s important to understand that the process doesn’t end when you’ve finished eating. Being mindful means being aware of the digestion process and how you can make it easier on your body. For instance, try taking your time at each meal to eat slowly and chew thoroughly, which not only breaks down food to make it more easily digestible, but also stimulates important enzymes that aid the digestion process as well.
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4. Improves gratitude. A key to eating mindfully is to think about how much went into the production of the food on your plate. “Realize the interdependent nature of food—that the sun and the moon, insects, truck drivers (and more) are all involved.” says Ronna Kabatznick, PhD and former Board Member of The Center for Mindful Eating. Thinking about where your food comes from creates a greater appreciation for the environment and the industry—which results in a greater appreciation for your food.
5. Eliminates emotional eating. A lot of the time we crave food to “fix” an emotional need or void in our life. But when you change the way you see and think about food, you no longer view it as a quick fix, and instead, you may find other opportunities to be fulfilled. “Donate to locate food banks, food give-away programs, and women’s shelters to satisfy the emotional aspects of eating surrounding loneliness, anger, lack of social networks, and frustration,” says Kabatznick.