The best thing about “mindful eating” is that you are not chained to impossible diet rules or bland menus, says Susan Albers, PsyD. She says mindful eating is being mindful is about balancing how you eat with what you eat.
“We have lots of mindless eating habits that lead to weight gain, such as mindlessly popping chips in your mouth while watching TV or eating when you aren’t really hungry.”
Lose weight without frustration
One of the biggest benefits of mindful eating is that you can lose weight without starving or frustration from rebounding. And you can keep the weight off because you aren’t hopping on and off of this plan. It’s a way you can eat for the long run. According to Dr. Albers, 95 percent of people who try a fad diet gain the weight (plus more) back within five years.
To help you practice the mindful approach, Dr. Albers suggests these five steps:
- Sit down. We often eat standing over the sink, nibbling in front of the refrigerator or snacking at the pantry. Remember: Eat only when you are off your feet to help you focus all of your attention on how much you are eating.
- Smell. Smelling food before you bite into it is an important part of eating well because it links to taste. We tend to eat a lot of mediocre food we don’t like. If you don’t love it, don’t eat it. When you enjoy food more, you can eat less of it.
- Savor. Put food on a plate and notice portion sizes. Often we are gobbling food out of fast-food bags, eating in the car or munching in front of a computer without really enjoying or tuning in to the experience.
- Slowly chew. Stagger your bites or intentionally eat more slowly than your eating companions. We tend to eat at exactly the same pace as others around us.
- Smile. Intentionally smiling creates a gap between bites so you can think about whether you want more or are satisfied. Smiling also stimulates feel-good chemicals in your brain that help reduce emotional eating.
Two favorite foods to practice mindful eating
Dr. Albers suggests choosing these two foods if you find yourself needing a snack: Mandarin oranges and pistachios.
Mandarins are easier to peel than regular oranges and are less than 100 calories. They also provide a perfect meditative moment, since you can slowly peel the fruit and eat it segment by segment.
Pistachios, which have the lowest calorie and fat content among nuts, help you regulate your blood sugar when you are under stress because they have fiber and protein, Dr. Albers says. Having to open the shells helps you slow down and the shells are a visual reminder of how many you’ve eaten.
According to Dr. Albers, a study on what is known as the “pistachio effect” found that participants ate on average 86 fewer calories and felt just as satisfied when they were given pistachios they had to shell themselves versus those that were already shelled for them.
Other tips for mindful eating
Dr. Albers offers these tips to help you practice mindful eating:
- Eat with your non-dominant hand. Switching your fork into your other hand jolts you out of autopilot. You can do it, but it takes more of your attention and concentration.
- Swivel away from your desk when you snack at work. This will prevent you from being tempted to answer your phone or type on the computer. When you eat, just eat.
- Use red plates or red cues like red napkins to help you slow down. When you see red, your mind automatically slows you down.
- Use a Bento box. It helps to keep your portion sizes consistent and also trains and rewires your stomach to be satisfied with a smaller amount of food.
- Practice “hunger checks.” Whenever your phone rings, ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale from 1-10.
- Intentionally eat “off the clock” as an experiment. Too often we eat at scheduled meal times instead of when we are actually hungry. Take a day or two to learn about your natural hunger periods.
- Practice mindfully eating foods you love in times of calm, not stress. In other words, practice eating chocolate mindfully on a good day, not when you are under stress.
- Add spinach to a morning snack. A recent study showed that this food helps you reduce how much you eat through the entire day because it contains nutrients that keep you feeling fuller.
- Keep reminders of what you’ve eaten. Research shows that we tend to have very poor memories of what we’ve eaten, so save the wrapper from your granola bar on your desk or snap a photo.
Susan Albers, PsyD, has written a New York Times best-selling book, EatQ, on how to break free from unhealthy food habits as well as several books on mindful eating strategies.