When it comes to making resolutions to be healthier, we spend a lot of time thinking about what to eat. While choosing a balanced variety of healthy foods is important, how you eat foods can ultimately make or break your success.
Research shows that mindful eaters tend to eat less overall and feel more satisfied.
That’s why I have devoted a whole chapter in my new book, "Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week," to the art of mindful eating.
In general, mindful eaters can be identified by four major characteristics:
1. They are able to identify true physical hunger, and they eat only when hungry and stop at the first point of fullness. Many of the excess calories we consume are due to eating when we are not truly physically hungry. We may think we are hungry when we are actually stressed, sad, bored or tired. We often turn to food to soothe these emotions, but the only thing food can satisfy is true physical hunger.
To determine whether hunger is physical or emotional, try the “apple test.” When the munchies strike, simply ask yourself if an apple (or some other food that you feel neutral about) would satisfy the hunger.
If the answer is yes, then most likely the hunger is physical hunger. You are truly hungry, so any nourishing food sounds good.
If the answer is no, then an emotion is most likely driving the “hunger” you are feeling, creating a specific food craving.
That’s a good time to evaluate what you are truly feeling (stressed, bored, sad, etc.) and find a more effective way to soothe that emotion like going for a walk or calling a friend.
2. They eat sitting down at a table. Studies show that people eat more when they are standing up than when they are sitting down. When you are ready to eat, be sure you have a table that is clear of clutter where you can sit down to enjoy your food. You deserve to have a peaceful, enjoyable environment in which to eat.
3. They eat off of a plate or bowl instead of straight out of a bag or box. Eating off of a plate or bowl rather than out of a bag or box goes hand-in-hand with sitting down at a table to eat. Not only does this elevate eating from an animalistic instinct to an enjoyable experience, it also requires you to portion out the food to put it on the plate, keeping you aware of how much you consume.
I recommend using a salad plate for most of your meals rather than a dinner plate. Switching to a smaller plate helps you feel more satisfied with less food because you’ll be able to enjoy a full plate of food rather than feeling gipped when you see small portions of food on a large plate.
Plus, dinner plates have increased by about 23% in just the past 20 years, and Cornell researchers found that just by switching from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch plate, you could consume up to 22% fewer calories!
4. They eat without distractions (i.e. TV, reading, computer, cell phone, etc.). This may be the most important part of mindful eating. That’s because research has proven time and time again that people eat more when they are not solely focused on the food.
A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who ate in front of the TV consumed more food and were more likely to describe their meal as unsatisfying as well.
In short, distractions make us remember less about our meal and the less we remember, the more likely we are to eat more later.
If you want to enjoy your food more and lose weight without hardly trying, mindful eating is key. As you become a more mindful eater, you will go from viewing eating as a stressful, guilt-ridden experience to a peaceful and pleasurable one.
Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, is a registered dietician and author of "Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week."