Mindless vs. Mindful Eating: Does Eating Without Intention Affect Your Health?

mindful eating

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. –Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:31

A healthy lifestyle is comprised of several necessary parts, one of which is mindfulness. Meal plans can provide information about what to eat and when, but what they can’t contribute is mindfulness around the meal.  

Are you actually hungry?  Did the meal satisfy you?  Do you feel overly full?  Did the meal appeal to and engage all of your senses? Did you have guilt or a negative emotion during or after the meal?

Mindful eating is eating with intention while paying attention.
– Kati Konersman, RD

It is so easy to combine mealtime with other activities like monitoring our social media channels, responding to emails, flipping through paperwork and making appointments.  As we multi-task plowing through our day’s work, we find we didn’t really “taste” the meal and didn’t give any attention to our hunger or satiety cues or even our overall food experience. 

While some approach mindful eating from historical mystic traditions and meditations, the idea of being present, enjoying your food experience and noticing how your body responds is an act that celebrates God’s amazing design of our body and mind connection.

The art of mindfulness is a learned practice that takes time to develop like any cultivated skill. This one practice can have long-term effects in helping us identify negative emotions around foods, learn to notice body signals and ultimately lead a healthier lifestyle.  Let’s celebrate the amazing mechanisms, systems, and signals God has given us to moderate and enjoy food!

Where Are You…When You Eat?

Re-learning how to be present during mealtime may sound difficult, but there are easy strategies you can implement today to begin training yourself in mindful eating.  Not only can this practice help you learn to become more intentional and increase your awareness, but I believe it awakens us to appreciate and celebrate God in all His glory!  

  • It is He who intricately created our bodies to let us know when it needs nourishment and when we have had enough.  
  • It is God who created food with a variety of flavors, scents, and textures so that we could enjoy an array of food experiences.  
  • It is the Ultimate Designer who gave us taste buds that differentiate between sweet, sour, savory, salty and bitter.  
  • It is God who gives us the creativity to put diverse foods together in such a way that we can eat a different meal every time we eat!

Are you compelled to adopt a mindful eating approach?  Here are 6 strategies to get you started!

eating

Begin EVERY Meal With Prayer

Sadly, praying before meals has turned into a thoughtless ritual for many people.  If you have young children, like myself, I find myself rushing through our prayer because once kids say they are hungry, they don’t stop.  But, praying before the meal is this amazing opportunity to stop, take a deep breath, and sincerely thank God for providing nourishing food for you to eat.  

Prayer doesn’t need to happen at dinnertime only – where did we get that impression? Challenge yourself to pray over your food EVERY time you eat.  In addition to thanksgiving, this is also an opportunity to thank the Lord for self-control, a fruit of the Spirit you already have IN YOU!  

What if after praying we actually took a minute to listen?  What if after we talked, we actually allowed God to say something before we picked up our fork?  

Praying over your food and your mealtime experience could be the one strategy that could literally, change your health.  I dare you to give it a try.

Identify Your Hunger and Satiety

Mealtime tends to be at designated times during the day, but are you really hungry?  How do you know?  If you are using a clock to tell you it’s time to eat, then you need to rethink your strategy.  At your next meal, these are some questions to ponder so that you can become more connected to your body’s signal for nourishment and satiety.

  • What does hunger feel like?
  • How do I rate my hunger now on a 0-10 scale?
  • What is the difference between being satisfied and full?  
  • How ‘full’ do I want to feel when I leave the table?
  • It is true that due to biological processes, my body should be ready for another meal within 3-5 hours?  This strategy is not about skipping meals but simply giving more attention to the internal signals at work in your body.

Take 20-30 Minutes to Eat Meals

For some individuals, fast paced meals feel innate and natural. Maybe they grew up with this practice or maybe they developed it out of necessity.  But, this is also a very common reason for overeating.  Many people will describe that they didn’t realize they were so full until it was too late… leading to guilt or regret.  Don’t end your meals with negative emotions or indigestion!  Take 20-30 minutes to eat your meal and allow your body to signal when it is satisfactorily full.  If this is a struggle, these are a few ideas to try to slow down mealtime:

  • Try to pace yourself with the slowest person at the dinner table.
  • Set your fork down EVERY TIME you take a bite.  You can do it!
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes and pace yourself to eat half of your plate; then reset and eat the other half.
  • Talk to your family about slowing down, and chewing your food 15-20 times before swallowing.

Smell, Taste and Savor Your Meal

If you closed your eyes and allowed the aroma of a food to waft in your nose, would you be able to identify it?  Can you identify different ingredients from the aroma?  When you take a bite, can you pick out the different flavors?  Do you notice sweet first?  Salty?  Savory? Bitter?  

God gave us every seed-bearing plant to eat for food.  He called it, “Good.”  It can certainly taste pretty good too if we decide to notice.

Designate a Place for Meals…

…Ideally at the table.  Eating while driving, standing, walking… it is practically impossible to practice mindful eating when we are chewing (or inhaling!) on the run.  In order to “eat intentionally while paying attention,” we must position ourselves to do so.  

If you are at a party, find a spot to sit down, pray and then enjoy your food mindfully.  If your meal is rushed to get out the door for an appointment or practice, make a note to begin scheduling the appropriate time to eat and clean up after your meal so that you are not hurried tomorrow.  If you are traveling, find a rest stop with picnic tables to sit down and eat a meal.  Associate mealtime with sitting at a table and encourage your family do the same.

Remove the Distractions

Technology may be the biggest hindrance to the successful, consistent practice of mindful eating. These devices command our thoughts so that we are mentally detached from our food experience.  This gives us the opportunity to clean our plates without a second thought and certainly with less pleasure.  If you decide you want to pursue a mindful approach to your eating habits and behaviors, make a commitment to turn off the television, move away from your computer, and leave your phone in your pocket or purse. Give yourself 30-minutes of non-screen time.  The email can wait.  If someone really needs you, they will call.  And, your health outranks TV on your list of priorities.  

So, What’s the play call?

Every time you acknowledge your body and its beautiful, intricate design, it brings glory to God!  

Let’s move our focus from counting points, calories, and macros and instead, give more attention to internal cues God knitted into our being.  And, while we are at it, give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy food experiences with all of our senses.

 

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