We recently wrote about a new model of obesity focused less on calories and more on carbohydrates and insulin. (Insulin is a storage hormone and chemical messenger released from your pancreas when you eat – especially when you eat foods that can be broken down into glucose, a sugar.) This model implicates lifestyle factors that can impact your insulin and blood sugar levels, including exercise and nutrition but also sleep and stress, in weight gain and obesity risk.

Let’s talk about stress and one lifestyle intervention that can reduce your stress levels – mindfulness! Stress, especially chronic stress, is often a major driver of weight gain as well as high blood pressure, insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. But formal meditation practice and informal mindfulness exercises in daily life can help reduce your stress levels and prevent acute stress from becoming chronic. Mindfulness, the act of tuning into your present experience and environment as opposed to thinking about the past or the future, helps you modify how you react to stressors. Mindfulness can help you recover more quickly from stressful events.

Mindfulness can also be applied to various activities in your life, including eating! Mindfulness can help you modify how you react to triggers that might lead to overeating. It can help you tune into what your body actually needs in any given moment. Mindful eating can result in you enjoying your meals more while avoiding disordered eating pitfalls like feeling guilty after a large or high-energy meal, emotional eating and eating out of habit instead of when you actually feel hungry.

Applying mindfulness to your meals can help you identify your own triggers for overeating, but also help you identify and let go of the anxiety, guilt and negative self-talk that many of us bring to the act of eating. “Should I really be eating this cookie? Is this cookie going to reverse all of the good work I’ve been doing to eat healthier and get fit? Why did I eat so much just now? Why am I always failing at my diet? Why can’t I stick to my intentions? Is something wrong with me? Maybe I should just give up on this diet.”

Let go of that negative self-talk and appreciate everything your food is doing to provide you with energy and brain-fueling nutrients with mindful eating.

What would choosing foods mindfully look like for you?
What would choosing foods mindfully look like for you?

Mindful Eating Exercise

“Informal mindfulness exercises, like mindful eating, may also be important in reducing certain maladaptive eating behaviors by increasing awareness of hunger and satiety cues as well as taste satisfaction and decreasing impulsive tendencies to overeat when experiencing negative emotions.” – Carriere et al., 2018

Try this mindful eating exercise during a meal today!

1. Tune in. Before your meal, take a few mindful, slow breaths. Start to tune in to how you feel right now.

Start to answer the following questions for yourself: How physically hungry are you? Is your stomach growling? Are you feeling low on energy? Or do you feel sleepy?

Would eating something right now make you feel better emotionally? Do you just want something to munch on? What would taste best right now? Take a few moments to reflect on these questions given what you are feeling in your body and mind right now. 

How much time do you have to eat? What does the rest of your day look like? What could you eat in this time that would help you better stay awake after your lunch break, feel good during your daily walk or run, or fall sleep tonight? Is that the same thing as what you decided earlier would taste good?

There are no “correct” answers to these questions. And it is ok to choose to eat what would taste good to you right now as opposed to what you think you should eat. But by labeling your physical and emotional sensations in the current moment and thinking about how they relate to food, you might make food decisions that better serve you right now.

2. Choose your foods mindfully. Whether ordering off of a menu, choosing items in a grocery store or making a plate from leftovers in your fridge, make your selections by tuning into how you feel right now, what your body needs and what looks or sounds most appetizing.

Is there anything you could order, place on your plate or put in your grocery basket that would add to the color, excitement, beauty or just functional nature of your meal? What will serve you and your body best in this moment? What would make your meal more enjoyable? What foods will serve you best for what are about to do next, whether that is to go to work, go for a hike or go to sleep?

Taking care in preparing your meal and making it look scrumptious can also be a great way to more thoroughly enjoy the act of eating. Photo by Monstruo Estudio on Unsplash.

3. Notice. You’ve prepared your plate! You’ve already won if you’ve placed foods on your plate based on how your mind and body are feeling in the present moment. Now use all of your different senses to take in the experience of what you are about to eat.

Pause to notice the colors on your plate and the scent of your food.  Take a few slow, long inhales and exhales in and out through your nose to take in all of the different aromas of your food. Take one to two slow bites first, taking time to savor each bite and notice how the act of eating is changing how your body, stomach and mind feel. What effect is eating this food having on you in the present moment? Are you enjoying it as much as you thought you would? 

4. Tune in. Before you finish all of the food on your plate. Take a few moments to tune in to your breath and body once again. How is your stomach feeling? Does your food taste as good now as it did when you first started eating? Is your energy level changing? How physically hungry are you? Has your emotional state changed? How are you feeling right now? 

Would you like to serve yourself more food? What items in particular do you want more of? Are you still hungry, or do you just want one more taste?

Did you serve more than you needed, or were your eyes bigger than your stomach? It is ok to leave food on your plate if it doesn’t serve you and your body best to leave a clean plate right now.

If you don’t feel good about what you just ate (or how much you just ate), pause to reflect on this feeling. Is it coming from how you are feeling physically, or how you are feeling emotionally?

If you don’t feel good physically, try not to judge yourself for eating the “wrong thing” or too much of it. Instead, acknowledge that you just served your body in a positive way by providing it with energy to work and live! Perhaps set an intention to eat what serves you better physically in the future.

If you don’t feel good emotionally, acknowledge this feeling briefly before returning your focus on your breath and how you are feeling physically right now. Does your body feel energized? Are your muscles more relaxed? Is your stomach feeling satiated and comfortable? Embrace how your food has just served you physically.

5. Treat yourself, mindfully. It often feels great to wrap up or finish your meal with a little treat. Enjoy something sweet while tuning into your body and hunger levels.

How hungry are you right now? Do you just want a taste of something sweet, or to clean your palate? Maybe a small piece of chocolate, a mint or just one spoonful of ice cream is all you really need to feel thoroughly satisfied! On the other hand, if you are still hungry, serve another plate without guilt! Finish your meal as mindfully as you started.

 

How did you like this exercise? Comment to let us know or tag us on social media, @lifeomicIF.


Paige Jarreau, PhD

I am the Director of Social Media and Science Communication for LifeOmic and an avid blogger. I'm interested in how scientists use social media to promote public engagement and health behaviors.

LifeOmic is the software company that leverages the cloud, machine learning and mobile devices to offer disruptive solutions to healthcare providers, researchers, health IT companies and patients.

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