Mindfulness and eating habits are a great combination. Of course you want to be aware of what you are eating, right? I’m talking about the mindless hand-to-mouth eating we do sitting in front of the computer, watching movies, and mingling at social gatherings. The mindfulness comes in when eating becomes overindulging. Our tummies have a maximum capacity – it’s just not listed on the outside, like a warning sign. Nor does a bell sound when we are getting close to full or over our limit.
We’ve all been there: “Oh, I ate too much.” “My tummy hurts.” “I shouldn’t have had that last piece.” And then, the discomfort sits in. You all know what I am talking about – where you have to unbutton your pants or get into comfy clothes to feel better. Not only do we feel bad, eating unhealthy amounts overworks our digestive system, disrupts our sleep, and ultimately leads to weight gain and other health complications.
Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s probably a good idea to learn some ways to break the mindless hand-to-mouth eating.
Start a Food Journal
First, it may be wise to identify your daily food intake. Writing down what you eat on a daily basis shows you how much protein and calories you are getting. A food journal helps you figure out what is the motive behind your snacking. Are you snacking because you need more protein? Or are you trying to fill a void?
Your food journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Find an unused notebook and start with the date and time of each meal. Then, list everything you ate. You may also add how satisfied you were after each meal and any other digestion concerns. It might surprise you to see what you eat in a day! If you are not sure your calorie intake is right for you, consult a nutritionist.
Pause for a Beat
Check in and see what is driving your snack attack. Are you truly hungry or are you fulfilling an emotional need?
Take a few moments to connect with your breath. Take three deep breaths, and then check in. You might ask yourself: What is coming up for me right now? When we are at social gatherings, we might eat out of nervousness. Late at night, perhaps we indulge because we feel lonely. It might be that we really love this new ice cream we bought, and because we had a bad day we are going to polish it off. Check in and see what is driving your taste buds.
Once you have ruled out malnutrition as the reason behind your snacking, you can treat your overindulgences as mindless snacking. Portion control helps you plan ahead of time what you are having as a snack. Do this in the kitchen, before having your snack. Pick a fancy bowl or small plate, and arrange your snack. Make it look pretty and inviting. Then, put away the rest of the food. When you have your snack, savor each bite and enjoy all the flavors.
Find Another Reward
Through self-reflection, you may find that your out-of-control snack attacks are due to an emotional concern (like one of those really bad days). Your homework is to look for another way to make yourself feel good. Consider other ways that fill you up and add more of these things into your daily life.
Drink a Glass of Water
Hydration is sometimes the number one reason why we reach for food. You are thirsty! Pour yourself a tall glass of water (add a slice of citrus for flavoring) and slowly drink up. Do this before even considering a snack. It may be all that your body really needs.
Stock the House with Healthy Snacks
It’s like that saying, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Having an endless supply of chocolate or your favorite gallon of ice cream is dangerous! If you love ice cream, then treat yourself to a single serve from your favorite frozen treat place. Stock your kitchen with healthy snacks (fruits, nuts, veggies) that are better for you and less tempting for overindulgence.
Wait Five Minutes
After you have finished your snack, give yourself a five minute break before convincing yourself that you need another helping. Go ahead and put away your dish, and distract yourself with another activity. Sometimes our stomach is full before our mind registers the sensation of being full, so give yourself some time to digest. After five minutes, if you are still hungry, grab a healthy snack, like veggies and hummus or a piece of fruit.
Plan Other Activities During Vulnerable Times
Figure out when you are the most likely to overindulge (for most it is in the evening), and plan other activities to keep you preoccupied during this time. Most often, we eat when we are tired, and it’s best not to eat at least two hours before bedtime. So, make it a rule. Once you are finished with dinner, have something else planned so that it doesn’t become an all-you-can-eat-buffet in your living room!
Take a Walk
Walks are great to get your digestion going and to take your mind off of food. Getting outside and going for a quick walk brings you into your body and away from the craving mind. Take your attention out of your mind and into your senses. It doesn’t have to be a crazy long walk; aim for 10 minutes and see how you feel.
Rinse Your Mouth
Still craving another bowl of ice cream? Buy yourself the most intense mouthwash you can find, like Listerine, and swish away. You can start by brushing your teeth and then toping it off with a good dose of mouthwash. Once your mouth is inundated with a cool breeze of mint, the thought of chocolate may not sound so good (or taste good either!).
My intention for this post is to give you a bag of tools to use when your eating habits get out of control. You may find not all of these are useful to you, and perhaps there are only a few that work some of the time. The idea is to motivate you to look at your eating differently. As a general rule, disordered eating is less about the food and more about what is going on with the person. Mindfulness strategies helps you uncover what is fueling the careless eating habits so you can learn to fulfill yourself in more healthy and satisfying ways.