Mindfulness is a major buzzword right now—and rightly so. In my experience, becoming more mindful is life-changing. It can help you react more calmly and thoughtfully in any situation, whether you’re stuck in traffic, dealing with a difficult boss, or making food choices. And mindfulness isn’t just a new age theory; its benefits are backed by plenty of research. Studies have found it may help reduce inflammation (a known trigger of premature aging and disease), lower stress hormone levels, boost happiness, shrink belly fat, improve sleep, and curb appetite.
Mindfulness can also be pretty powerful when it comes to your eating habits. With my clients, I've observed how mindful eating can totally transform a person's relationship to food. (That's why I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book Slim Down Now.) Mindfulness can help you eat less and enjoy your food more. Plus, feeling relaxed while you nosh helps improve digestion and reduce bloating. And while becoming mindful doesn't happen overnight, the process is actually pretty simple. Here are three steps you can take today.
Practice slowing down
If you find yourself eating too fast, or making spontaneous food decisions often (like grabbing a handful of M&Ms from the office candy jar), start by slowing the pace of your day. One way to do so: Pop in your earbuds and listen to a five-minute guided mindfulness meditation. You’ll find many options on YouTube, and through apps like Headspace, Meditation Studio, and Calm.
At meal times, try putting your fork down in between bites. You can also try an app like Eat Slower which allows you to set an interval (anywhere between 20 seconds and 3 minutes) between bites; a bell lets you know when it's time to lift your fork again. Even if you don’t do this at every meal, regularly practicing slow eating will help you become accustomed to unhurried noshing.
Take smaller bites and sips
When clients really struggle to quit a speed eating habit, I often recommend that they cut their food into smaller pieces. I also advise choosing “loose” foods. For example, it's helpful to eat popped popcorn kernels or nuts one at a time, and chew each well before grabbing another. Grapes, berries, and grape tomatoes can also work well for slowing the pace.
Eat without distractions
As efficient as multitasking may be, it’s not a great idea for meal or snack time, since it’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to really pay attention to more than one thing at a time. So step away from your computer, TV, phone, and even books during meal time. By removing distractions, you can really pay attention to the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food, and better tune into your hunger and fullness levels. You’ll also be more mindful of how quickly you’re eating, and likely realize that gobbling down food at lightening speed doesn’t actually feel good. If you can’t do this at every meal, commit to undistracted eating at least once a day.
Ready to give it a go? In my experience, this trio of steps can lay the foundation for balance, and help remedy chaotic or erratic eating. So rather than thinking about calories or carbs, shift your focus inward, take a deep breath, and start to adopt a new type of healthy eating pattern.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.