Do you find yourself snacking on food more often that you’d actually like to? Do you often reach for food when in the kitchen? Then you might have created a habit that could sabotage your health goals. It is called mindless snacking. If you want to enjoy your food more and, at the same time, improve your eating habits, then read on to discover how to implement mindfulness techniques to your food and snacking choices.
Food is more than just energy for the body. It can be a source of joy, it can stimulate the senses, it can bond peo- ple and create a sense of belonging. But food can also be a coping mechanism. Stop and think about this for a minute. From your own experience, have you ever resorted to food in order to fill an emotional void, to fight boredom, or melancholy, or to bond with another person? The truth is that most of the food we consume and the way we consume it is rooted in our habits. From waking up in the morning and reaching for your favourite coffee mug, to slumping back on the couch in the evening after a long day and enjoying your favourite show. Is food involved? If so, it is probably there out of habit. Of course, we eat because we are physically hungry, but there is a difference between emotional and physical hunger.
Mindless snacking refers to eating habits that we’re not consciously aware of, or that have developed automatically out of habit. Late night snacking can easily be the habit of resorting to food as a reward mechanism, or can be directly associated with an activity, such as watching your favourite TV show. Mindless simply means we do something without putting our minds to the activity – we are not fully aware of it. When it comes to food, lack of awareness can sabotage more than just your diet.
Let’s face it, we all have engaged in mindless eating at some point in our life. What does mindless eating look like? Some examples include eating in front of the TV or computer, eating while walking or driving, as well as eating while engaging in a heated conversation. All these examples illustrate how our mind is busy with something else rather than registering that we are putting food into our bodies. How does this impact our health? For starters, our digestive process is slow to catch up. Digestion starts with our senses: as we smell and see our food, digestive enzymes start to be produced. Not paying attention to proper chewing or eating in a hurry might additionally lead to indigestion and to consuming more food than we actually need. Enter bloating, stomach pain and weight gain.
What does mindfulness have to do with food?
The concept of mindful eating emerged in the 1990s when a pio- neering clinical trial found that binge eating disorders can be reduced with mindfulness intervention in the diet. Since then, multiple studies have confirmed the positive impact of mindfulness interventions on our eating habits.
Because eating disorders are much more serious than mindless snack- ing, it is always a good idea to consult a professional to address an eating disorder in the best possible way. What this approach encourages is for us to simply pay more attention when eating and being in the present moment. When we do this, we become more aware to inner stimulants in our body, such as physical signs of hunger or emotional triggers, as well as of outside habit cues, such as specific location, time or activity that makes us reach for a snack. As soon as we become more aware, we open up the possibility to change our eating hab- its with a higher chance for long-term success.
Tips on how to snack mindfully
Bringing more mindfulness to our food helps increase the joy and pleasure derived from food, as we are able to enjoy it with all of our senses in the present moment. There are different protocols on mindful eating that you can find, and the three components listed below are considered key points on this topic by clinical researchers.
1. Focus on your body’s internal cues and why you want to snack
As you notice the urge to snack, stop and check for physical cues to see if you’re really hungry. Notice if the desire to snack is being triggered by external factors, such as social settings, time of day or convenience. Take time to think about what food exactly your body is craving. Is it the food you have in front of you, or does your body need something else?
2. Pay attention to the snacking moment
Once you have made a conscious decision to snack, allow yourself to be fully present. Avoid distractions, such as your phone or the TV. Pay attention to each bite – the texture, taste and smell. Eat slowly and focus on chewing your food well.
3. Use your senses to savour the snack
When we focus on the smells, tastes, textures, colours and shapes of the food we consume we derive much more pleasure and enjoyment from that food. Arrange your snack nicely on a serving plate or bowl, and take the time to properly sit down on the dining table to savour it. Eating slowly also allows us to notice when we have become full and to avoid overeating.
Mindful snacking doesn’t need to be rigid. Stay flexible in exploring different techniques and see how you respond to them. Be curious and self-accepting. If you find it difficult to bring awareness to your snacking on a daily basis, then start slowly by choosing to practice mindful snacking for a snack that you usually have when alone or not under time pressure. As soon as you feel more confident in your approach, transfer mindfulness to main meals. Explore how your snacking experience shifts as you bring more awareness to it.