According to research by the Economic Research Service (ERS), Americans spend about 75 minutes per day eating and drinking, but we’re often doing other things too, like watching Netflix, scrolling through our phone, or working. Multitasking while eating can distort our perceptions, which can result in over-eating or under-eating. It can also distort our relationship with food and prevent us from truly enjoying what we’re eating.
Researchers like Dr. Lilian Cheung, a Nutrition Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, have referred to this type of distracted eating as mindless eating. Her research has found that mindless eating is a contributor to obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Are you eating mindlessly?
Ask yourself the following questions and see how well you can answer them.
- If you close your eyes, can you envision your plate and everything on it? How big was the plate? How full was it? What colors did you see? How full was your spoon or fork when you took your first bite? How about the second and the last?
- What did you drink (either along side your meal or alone) and what kind of glass or container was it in? How full was your cup? How heavy was it? What did your beverage smell like as you raised the glass to your mouth? How many glasses did you have, if you had more than one?
- Do you recall the sensation of eating and drinking? What was the temperature when your food or beverage entered your mouth? What was the texture like? Did the flavors of your food or drink change while you swallowed? How did it feel as it went down your throat?
Now, take a second and reflect on how your environment or habits may be affecting your ability to answer these questions — and do it with self-compassion. Keep in mind that the vast majority of people engage in mindless eating, even if they’re not looking at their phones or laptop screen. They may be lost in their thoughts about the day or deeply engaged in a conversation with a friend. This isn’t all bad, necessarily. It’s just that we should be aware of how this might be affecting our health and how we can control these behaviors.
Tips for Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the opposite of mindless eating and it takes practice. It’s also a skill that we all have the capability of mastering over time.
Here are 3 tips to get you started:
- Don’t multitask while you’re eating. Remember, distractions can draw your attention away from signals like when your body is full.
- Eat nutrient-dense foods at regularly scheduled times. If we wait long periods of time to eat, we can get so hungry that we end up eating more than we typically would when we’re not so depleted.
- Stay hydrated. Not only does drinking more water potentially help you feel more full, it may also play a key role in concentration and mood. All of which can affect your ability to eat more mindfully.
Mindful Eating Exercise
If you’re ready to take the next step, here’s a mindful eating exercise inspired by clinical psychologist, Dr. Steven Hayes’s book, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
- Start by giving yourself permission to move through your meal slowly. Take your time performing every action. Try not to get too hung up on any judgments that may come up. Just notice these thoughts along with your experience of eating mindfully. If you have any other thoughts or feelings as you’re eating, notice those too. Then bring your attention back to your physical experience of eating the food.
- Notice the details of the plate or bowl that’s in front of you.
- Notice how the food sits in the plate or bowl. Look at the colors and textures.
- Notice any smells. Take a second to try and describe them.
- Place your hand over the plate or bowl and notice the temperature.
- As you prepare to take your first bite, when you lift your fork or spoon, notice how heavy it is in your hand.
- As you bring the food toward your mouth, notice the temperature and smell.
- As you place the food in your mouth, notice the sensation and texture as it moves across your tongue.
- If your food requires chewing, as you chew, notice the texture while you chew. Does the flavor change with each bite?
- As you swallow, notice any sensations as the food travels to your stomach.
- Repeat these steps until you are finished with your meal.
- After the plate or bowl is clear, notice the sensation in your stomach. Try to describe what feels like to be full.
If you tried this exercise, as always, we’d love to know what your experience was like. Was there anything that you struggled with? Did anything surprise you? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.
Editor’s Note: The initial post incorrectly attributed the second photo to Blake Jackson. The caption has since been edited to credit Richard Cummings.