Mindful Eating

After dropping my students off at lunch, I think about three emails I need to send before the end of the school day. There’s also a stack of quizzes on my desk I told myself would be graded and returned to students today. So, during my lunch I sit at my desk and fire off emails, grade quizzes, and shovel lunch into my mouth. I would love to say that days like this were outliers, but that wouldn’t be the truth. They were more the norm than the exception.

I have to admit, didn’t really know what mindfulness was a few years ago. Yes, I knew that it meant paying attention to what you were doing throughout your daily routine, but I didn’t really understand what that looked like. After I learned more about mindfulness, I realized one of the areas were I was really struggling was eating. I would eat regularly in front of the television, a computer, or some other device.

It never occurred to me that this was a problem until I was in a professional development last year about mindfulness. One of the sessions discussed mindful eating and the dangers of multitasking while you eat – watching television, working on your computer, etc.

According to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when you are distracted you eat more food. This is because your mind sends signals to tell you’re full and should stop eating. These signals can start about 20 minutes after you start eating. If you’re not paying attention to your meal, the signals your mind sends to the rest of your body might not be noticed. When you’re distracted, it is easier to miss these signals.

In addition to being more mindful, there are other strategies to help decrease the amount of food you eat before your mind sends the “I’m full” signal. Here are some great suggestions from Harvard Medical School:

  • Set a timer to 20 minutes.
  • Eat with your non-dominant hand.
  • Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.
  • Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
  • Take small bites and chew well.
  • Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”
  • Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

Since I learned more about mindfulness, I eat almost every day in the faculty room with a colleague. My computer is in my classroom, and I try to keep my cell phone in my pocket. It has helped the amount I consume, and I’ve found it helps me reset my body and mind for the afternoon. One of these day, though, I might break out some chopsticks and give that a shot too.