I moved to the kitchen, grabbed a banana and a handful of crackers and ate them at the counter, while making notes on my to-do List. Then I grabbed a piece of string cheese from the fridge and a rubbery Tootsie Pop from the back cupboard and carried them to my desk. I still don’t remember eating the lollipop, but the wrapper is sitting there under the computer monitor.
The stress of much to do in little time had me eating mindlessly and without enjoyment. That unconscious anxiety reflex was keeping me from optimal health.
When we eat mindlessly, not only do we not enjoy our food, but we also are developing habits that could harm our health and lead to weight gain. When we slow down, deliberately prepare and eat our food mindfully, we tend to make better food choices.
Research led by Blair Kidwell and published in the Journal of Marketing Research shows that different food products lead to different emotional states.
Study participants who learned to recognize the emotions linked to certain foods — e.g., ice cream equals party time — were able to mindfully make more nutritious choices and even lose weight during the course of the study.
The researchers say that when we become aware of how we feel, we can use our emotions to help us make better choices and create greater well-being. Mindfulness at mealtimes can help us turn off the habit of mindless eating and turn on to better health.
Mindful eating is the opposite of eating cold, leftover pizza while standing at the counter. It is not chowing down on a protein bar while in the car, or unconsciously picking the mac and cheese off the kids’ plates. Sure, you can be mindful of those moments too, but to max out the benefits of mindful eating, it’s best to sit down, slow down, and give your attention to the food and the experience of eating it.
Here are three tips to help you do it:
- Eat with all your senses. Even if you are by yourself, turn off technology, close the book, get quiet, and shift your attention to the meal. Eat with all of your senses. Notice the colors, textures, and aromas. Savor that first bite. When you do take a taste, allow yourself to fully experience the sensations.
- Put your fork down between bites. We are so rushed during the day that we even eat at a rapid-fire pace. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the moment. It helps to pause and act deliberately. When I put my utensil down between bites, it’s a signal to self to settle down, take in the moment. It physically forces me to slow down.
- Create a short ritual at meal times. Say grace, or offer up gratitude or a “goodness,” we call them, from the day. Perhaps you have a ritual of deliberately and carefully putting the napkin on your lap or a set way of serving others. Perhaps you start every meal by lighting a candle. Whatever it is, a short ritual repeated with conscious awareness before you eat every meal will enhance your experience of it. Even the ritual of blowing out birthday candles has been shown to improve the taste of the cake, according to research by Kathleen Vohs.
Portions of this post have been reprinted from an earlier post in Imperfect Spirituality.
Kidwell, B., & Hasford, J. (2014). Emotional Ability Training and Mindful Eating. Journal of Marketing Research, in press. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.13.0188
Vohs, K.D., Wang, Y. Gino, F., & Norton, M.I. (2013). Rituals Enhance Consumption. Psychological Science, vol. 24(9) 1714-1721.