Do you find yourself wolfing down meals without noticing and eating everything in front of you just because it’s there? That’s mindless eating at its best. Discover 5 simple ways to eat more mindfully everyday.

“There’s no such thing as good food or bad food, there’s simply food, because mindfulness is not judgmental, whereas that dieting mentality is extremely critical about whether food is good for us or not”.

But first, what exactly is mindful eating?

Although not a new concept, mindfulness has become a modern day trend, gaining widespread support in promoting health and wellbeing. Originally embraced in some of the world’s oldest cultures, mindfulness is being consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions without criticism or judgment.

Applied to eating, mindfulness means listening to your body and tuning into your natural hunger and fullness signals. It’s not a diet (in fact it’s the complete opposite)- rather it’s about paying full attention to what you’re eating and how you’re eating it, encouraging you to make better food choices and foster a healthful relationship with food. For example, there’s no such thing as good food or bad food, there’s simply food, because mindfulness is not judgmental, whereas that dieting mentality is extremely critical about whether food is good for us or not.

While anything can be done mindfully, a small yet growing body of research has shown eating in the ‘present moment’ improves digestion, regulates our appetite and helps us enjoy our food much more.

If mindful eating is a new concept for you, the key is to start gradually: eating one meal a day in a slower, more conscious manner. Here are 5 simple steps to help you become one with your meal.

1. Adopt an ‘unconditional permission’ to eat
Eating to your every gastronomic desire is obviously not the point of mindful eating. The point is the exact opposite: to honour your body and its true desires. Be it a hefty appetite or craving, feed your body wholesome foods that it naturally desires and yes, this includes ‘forbidden’ foods, in moderation. Remember, no foods are off limits when you eat mindfully. It empowers you to be the expert of your own body and realise there’s no perfect diet.

2. Snack with purpose
It may sound obvious, but eating out of a bag or box is a mindless practice. Get in the habit of placing even small snacks on a plate before you eat them. This will force you to acknowledge exactly what and how much you will be eating.

Related: What does a healthy snack look like?

3. Get real with hunger
Hunger is our primal need for food and is caused by the brain reading changes in the levels of hormones and nutrients in the blood, such as when your blood sugar levels dip hours after eating. ‘Real’ hunger, however is very different from ‘perceived’ hunger which is often an indication of boredom or a symptom of procrastination. For example, if you’ve just eaten within the last two hours, chances are you are not physically hungry. The best way to rate your hunger is to think about how hungry you are on a scale of 1-10. One represents ravenous, five is comfortable, and 10 is full to the point you’re totally stuffed! You never want to reach either end of the scale. Aim to be somewhere in the middle, so as to avoid overeating or eating out of control.

4. Drop distractions
Sometimes eating can feel like another item on the to-do list. If you’re one of those people who find it hard to eat lunch away from your desk or dinner not in front of the TV, challenge yourself to eat without multi-tasking. Why? Eating while distracted makes it harder to recall the amount of food consumed, prompting you to eat more. Set aside time for eating without other entertainment.

5. Honour your emotions
Often we may turn to food as a reward or manage certain feelings. Although eating should be enjoyable, it shouldn’t be your main source of comfort. If you find that too many stressful days in the office or a tiff with your partner means a remedy of an entire block of chocolate or a bottle of vino, consider introducing coping mechanisms other than food to your repertoire. Go for a walk, phone a friend or paint your toe nails. Whatever it is, do something other than eat to cope with the emotion and your eating habits will take a turn for the better.

Related: What’s Your Eating Style?

This post was adapted from an article written by Kathleen for news.com.au and republished with their permission.

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