4 Simple Ways to Practice Eating Well

What do you think of or visualize when you hear the term “mindful eating?” If you’re not imagining much of anything, or already, its feels confusing – you’re not alone. The majority of literature on mindful eating describes the practice as “paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment. It is an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ experience when eating food (NIH).” Women's Health defines it as “focusing on the action of eating and getting in touch with your fullness cues,” and WebMD describes it as “being fully immersed in the present moment, eating slowly, and engaging all our senses” as we eat. 

Essentially, mindful eating encourages people to focus on how the food is making them feel. It suggests that this will increase satisfaction and awareness, and likewise, it will help people be full with less food. Using how food makes our body feel, mindful eating is also supposed to help us make better eating choices. 

On paper, this sounds good, but still, most of the advice and writing on mindful eating falls short because it makes the following assumptions: 1) that people already know how to be present when eating 2) that people naturally have the discernment about what feels normal when eating 3)  much of the literature forgets that emotional attachment to food can override how food physically makes us feel (NIH, 2023). All of this causes mindful eating to become complicated. So, in this blog, we’re going to share 4 ways to understand mindful eating and what food should actually and “normally” feel like. 

Understanding normal vs abnormal

When we eat our favorite foods, it feels pretty good regardless of the nutritional content. It is especially rewarding when we're with loved ones or we have memories attached to the food. So, as we're eating, we want to pause and take a moment to feel physical sensations in our body, not just with our favorite foods but with all our foods. That way, it becomes a habit.

Consider the following questions.

Do I feel sluggish, a sugar rush, physical discomfort, or bloated? Could I go on a walk afterward? Do I feel hungry shortly after?  On the other hand, Cleveland Health Clinic states that you should feel calm, energized, and have the ability to focus after eating. Sleepiness after eating can be normal, but you should not be fatigued. Fatigue means you feel worn out, even after sleeping. 

Understand that healthy food can bring satisfaction.

One of the main ways to accomplish this is to avoid fad diets. To begin with, fad diets may cause us to associate healthy eating with restriction and lack of enjoyment. When pursuing healthy eating, put satisfaction at the center.

Think – what flavors do I like, or what can I add or exclude from this dish so it contributes more to my body? For example, what about putting your favorite entrée on a bed of romaine lettuce? Do you even like lettuce? What plant-based food could be added instead? 

Mindful eating should allow us to pose these questions. In contrast, fad diets are not customized to individual taste. While most proponents of mindful eating actually dissuade us from restrictive habits, many of them do not address the tension between the two ideas of "eating less" and "achieving fullness." "Fullness" may mean different things for different people. When they say, "focus on fullness cues," some may need help healthily identifying those or finding what "full" means for their body. 

Honor your bio-individuality. 

Bio-individuality encourages the idea of forming a diet and routine that caters to your unique individual and biological needs (Institute for Integrative Nutrition, 2021). When it comes to nutrition, it encourages us to find what simultaneously tastes good and makes your body feel energized long-term, and plan meals around these foods. When you enjoy something, it's easier to form a routine around it.

Practice self-compassion. 

Health is a journey, and being present in the moment requires self-compassion. It requires us to focus on where we are now. Self-compassion does not want us to fixate on where we think we should be. The pursuit of health can offer challenges, but perfection is not required. Give yourself credit. Acknowledge, but do not chastise yourself for deviations.  This can lead to shame, and shame can often lead to inaction and detachment (NIH, 2022). Rather refocus, meditate on affirmations, and simply plan your next meal.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of time for meal planning, but you can even start with small changes or find a buddy to start these changes with you. As you begin, remember that health is a journey, and most of all, it is one that you're worth making.