Mindful Eating in the New Year

Woman eating with children with apple in her hands

USDA courtesy photo

As we embark on a new year with the whirlwind of 2020 behind us, this can be a time of reflection on the past year but also a time to look forward to what the upcoming year will bring. Along with considering the forthcoming year comes the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. For many people the goals made as part of a New Year’s resolution can symbolize a new beginning as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another. After all of the chaos and unpredictability of the past year, now is the perfect time to make a small change to focus on the present moment and incorporate mindful eating to improve your overall health and wellness.

Mindful eating is an approach that focuses on the full experience of eating and includes tuning into one’s senses. While the ultimate goal of mindful eating is not to lose weight, it has shown to help individuals consume calories in moderation and lead to weight loss as well as other desirable health benefits. The intention of mindful eating is to engage in the eating experience and encourage an individual’s full presence to savor every moment of a meal.

Here are some tips for incorporating small changes in your awareness at mealtimes to move towards a sustainable approach to mindful eating.

Before you dig in, take a moment to reflect on how you feel and slow down.

Was there a big rush to get all of the food to the table while it is still hot? Did some of your dishes not turn out exactly how you wanted? Did your family zoom call go longer than anticipated? As all the thoughts from the day race through your mind, pause for a moment to take a deep breath and tune into the present moment. Take a moment to reflect and acknowledge the labor that went into providing your meal – the farmers, grocery store workers, the chef or chefs, or even those around the table with you.

Turn off distractions.

While it may be tempting to leave the football game on in the background or have your phone at the ready to respond to text messages, take this moment to just focus on your meal. This will help you enjoy your food fully and be more aware of what and how much you are eating. Research has shown that distractions during meal time leads to mindless overeating.

Turn on your senses.

Look at the wonderful food on your plate - the colors, the textures, the perfection of the meal. Smell all of the wonderful spices and individual scents, allow the aromas to fill your nose. Feel the weight of your utensil in your hand and notice how familiar this feeling is. Taste your food as you take your first bite and chew your food thoroughly and think about the individual flavors and textures and how they change and combine. Listen to the joy of the moment and the sounds around you and let them ground you in the present.

Listen to your body.

As you eat, be aware of how you are feeling. Put down your utensil between each bite and don’t pick it back up until you have fully enjoyed and swallowed what you already have in your mouth. This will help allow your body to catch up and be more aware of when you are starting to feel full. Satiety or the feeling of fullness is complicated but research shows it may take 15-20 minutes for our bodies to send a signal to our brain to realize we are full. Don’t dig into a second plate or dessert right away but allow your body to settle. Take this time to converse with the people around the table or take a short light walk which can also help stimulate digestion.

While all of these strategies may not seem practical at first, making small variations daily to incorporate just one or two of these modifications can promote positive change. When utilizing mindful eating at every meal, eating habits start to change and it becomes more manageable to regularly maintain healthful eating habits.

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