Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Do you eat while browsing social media platforms or watching your favorite show, what makes you bloated, and not sure what your food tastes like? Or maybe you feel guilty for eating leftover chocolate cake straight out of the fridge?
If you do, these behaviors contradict conscious eating, which means using all of your physical and emotional senses to experiment with food choices, Lilian Cheung, lecturer and director of health promotion and communication in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, told CNN. .
Mindful eating “stems from the broader philosophy of mindfulness, a centuries-old practice used in many religions, and mindfulness is a deliberate focus on one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations in the present moment,” Cheung said.
Conscious eating and intuitive eating overlap, but differ in some key respects.
Whereas the concept of mindful eating or mindful eating focuses on being present to experience your food as you eat it, the concept of intuitive eating focuses more on improving one’s relationship to food and body image by rejecting the strict, external messages of diet.
Whether one method is better than the other depends on the individual’s needs, Lisa Young, assistant professor of nutrition at New York University and a registered dietitian in private practice, told CNN.
Mindful eating fits into all kinds of eating, weight, and health advice and strategies, with Young explaining that it’s a concept that’s more accessible to a larger audience because it’s a tool that can be incorporated into many different approaches.
Experts caution that mindful eating is not a panacea for issues related to food or health, but small studies have suggested some benefits of the practice, based on its meditative aspects and abilities to help people distinguish between signals of physical hunger and emotional hunger.
Young noted that some people have noticed weight loss or weight stabilization, reduced anxiety and stress, normal eating habits, and relief from irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal symptoms.
And if you want to try mindful eating, here’s what else you should know about getting started and potential pitfalls:
Practicing mindful eating
The goal of mindful eating is to become more attuned to all of your senses — sight, smell, hearing, taste, feeling — and thoughts during undistracted eating experiences, says Theresa Fong, professor and director of the education program in dietetics at Simmons University in Boston, and professor of nutrition. Associate at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.
“When I eat breakfast, I won’t grab my iPad and read the news of the day, and I won’t check my email. I’ll be sitting somewhere quiet – it could be the sofa, I don’t necessarily have to sit at the dining room table,” Fong explained.
And about her experience with morning coffee, Fong said that she notices the sound of brewing her coffee, then the smell emanating from this process, then notes the color of her drink and its balance between cream and coffee, then she can focus on whether the coffee itself is as warm in her mouth as she feels in the cup she is carrying. In her hands, as she sips, she can notice flavours.
Gratitude is a potential aspect and consequence of mindful eating, and in order to increase your awareness while eating, you can consider “the source of the food, expressing gratitude to the environmental elements and individuals involved in the food journey to your plate,” Cheung says.
You may be used to using your phone, watching TV, or reading while eating, but you can gradually break the habit by eliminating distractions during mealtime.
And if you eat dinner while watching TV most nights of the week, can you set aside one night of the week to eat mindfully? Then two nights and so on, as suggested by Cheung.
The same is true for those who have a busy schedule that complicates the ability to focus solely on eating.
Experts recommend trying to practice mindful eating as often as possible – whether it’s for five minutes during lunchtime or snacking between meals.
Cheung said that if you feel impatient or want to hold your phone while eating, that’s okay, just notice these feelings, take deep breaths, and turn your attention back to your meal.
Cheung advised to take small bites of food and chew it well as well. If you eat slowly, you likely know when you feel full, and you can stop eating.
Cheung also points out that sharing a meal or eating with others is certainly encouraging, and mindful eating doesn’t have to mean eating in silence.
Instead, try setting aside a few minutes at the beginning of the meal: smile at your peers, express gratitude for the food and the company of others, and try eating during the first few minutes without talking to focus on the eating experience.
Once you’ve been practicing mindful eating for a while, you can apply this concept to other areas of your life. “It can apply to mindful living and doing one task at a time,” said Fong.
“We often do too many tasks at the same time, which prevents us from concentrating on anything,” she added.