Bringing mindfulness to the dinner table

September 04, 2018 | by Toni Havala, MS, RD, LDN

It’s not easy to be mindful.

We’re faced with a barrage of texts, push notifications, videos and Tweets every day, all vying for our attention.

There’s so much to take in and think about, it’s tough to slow down and focus on something as simple as breathing. Or the sound of the wind in the trees. Or the taste of the food you’re having for dinner.

Breaking free of the magnetic pull of the smartphone or television isn’t easy, but it’s worth the struggle.

Practicing mindfulness—keeping your attention on the present moment, your current experience—can help you feel peaceful. It also helps you focus on what you need and what you don’t.

Take food, for instance. Our brains signal to us that it’s time to eat in a variety of ways – time (it’s noon, lunchtime), a television commercial showing a luscious pizza dripping with melty cheese, seeing the logo for one of our favorite restaurants. Listening to other people talking about food can make us think about eating.

Sometimes it’s your own growling stomach that drives you. Or a particularly rough day that leaves you thinking about comfort food (or dessert).

There are two types of hunger, in fact.

Physical hunger

  • Comes on gradually and can be postponed
  • Can be satisfied with any type of food
  • Once you’re full, you stop eating
  • You feel satisfied in the end, not guilty

Emotional hunger

  • Comes on suddenly and feels urgent
  • Causes specific cravings: pizza, chocolate, ice cream
  • You eat more than you normally would and feel uncomfortably full afterward
  • You feel guilty in the end and mad at yourself

We often end up overeating because of emotions or an environment that’s influencing us—or because the food we’re eating (hot fudge-smothered banana split?) tastes so good that we finish it all, even though we’re stuffed.

Mindful eating is a way to combat overeating. It takes some conscious effort at first. Do it enough and it’ll become your new routine.

This is how to bring mindfulness to the dinner table:

Pay attention to your external and internal experience, including:

  • Colors
  • Smells
  • Textures
  • Flavors
  • Temperatures
  • Sounds
  • Fullness
  • Distractions
  • Impulses
  • Mood

Ask yourself:

  • Am I hungry? If so, where is the hunger coming from?
  • Why do I want to eat right now?
  • What do I really need, and how can I fulfill that need?

Remember the BASICS of mindful eating:

  • Belly check before you eat
  • Assess/check out your food
  • Slow down
  • Investigate your hunger throughout the meal
  • Chew your food thoroughly
  • Savor your food

It doesn’t hurt to practice everyday mindfulness along with mindful eating. Take time out to relax every day, focus on self-care and non-food rewards.

This blog is a recap of a seminar given June 13, 2018, part of ongoing patient education series sponsored by Endeavor Health Weight Management.

Related blogs:
How nature can help you heal
Win the battle with your weight
What is metabolic syndrome (and could you have it)?

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