how to break the habit with mindful eating instead

Dietitian Melissa Meier shares her top five, practical tips on how to be more mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth. 

Life in lockdown can be tricky to navigate. You now work at home, eat at home and entertain yourself at home 100 per cent of the time – all while uncertainty, anxiety and fear floods your newsfeed and television screen. It’s seriously trying times.

With not much else to turn to, you might find yourself in your kitchen more often than not looking for food to relieve the stress momentarily. We’ve all done it before – and if it happens once in a blue moon, it’s really no big deal. But if it’s happening on the reg, it could be a detriment to your health.

That’s because people often to turn to ‘treats’ for emotional comfort (chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, you know the drill). While these foods are certainly delicious, eating too much of them too often will spike your intake of saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium, which isn’t good news for your heart or waistline.

So, if you’ve suddenly found yourself doing a lot of stress eating, how do you stop? Say hello to mindful eating. It’s a simple strategy that could help you put down the M&M’s before you demolish the entire bag.

Step one: assess your hunger

To eat or not to eat – that is the question. The first step in mindful eating is to figure out if you’re actually hungry, and if not, find another way to help you heal emotionally (think: calling a friend, going for a walk or having a nice, relaxing bath).

Rate your hunger on a scale of minus five to plus five – zero being no hunger, minus five being absolutely starving, and plus five being the kind of fullness you only feel on Christmas day. You want to get to about minus two or three before you start eating – really feel those hunger pangs and emptiness in your stomach. If you’re not there yet, it’s not time to eat.

Step two: turn off distractions

If you decide that you truly are hungry, you should eat distraction-free. Turn off the television, put your phone away and close your laptop lid. That’ll help you to be in the moment and pay attention to your food, rather than polishing off an entire meal or snack without even blinking.

Step three: eat slowly

You want to take about 20 to 30 minutes to finish a main meal, or 10 to 20 minutes for a snack. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly, instead of trying to finish it as quickly as you can. It can help to put down your cutlery between each bite.

Step four: notice all of your senses

Eating is a sensory experience. It’s not just about your taste buds, but all five senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste, so try to notice all of these elements in your meal. What colours can you see? What aromas are coming from your food? What noises can you hear while eating? What textures can you identify?

And finally, what flavours can you taste? Paying attention to all of these aspects of your meal will help you to truly enjoy the eating experience and feel more satisfied afterwards.

Step five: reassess your hunger

Along the way, you should constantly re-evaluate your hunger and satiety cues. Stop eating when you’re about 80 per cent full, rather than eating and eating and eating until you feel absolutely stuffed.

And there you have it – my guide to eating mindfully, to hopefully help you turn away from food when you’re stressed, and enjoy the eating experience when you’re genuinely hungry.

Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.