If you've heard terms like "mindful eating" or "conscious eating" before, you may wonder what they actually mean, or, more importantly, how to practice them.
As a certified health coach, people often ask me how to slow down and practice mindful eating, so I have devised the following four questions that you should ask yourself before you eat anything.
1. What am I eating?
This is not a perfunctory question! To say, "I'm eating a Twinkie," is not enough. You have to know what's in the Twinkie. When you ask yourself what you're eating, you need to really think about the answer. If what you're eating is full of chemicals that you can't pronounce, chances are, you shouldn't be eating it. This is why reading food labels is so important.
Pro move: Don't buy packaged food.
Rookie move: Buy packaged food with five ingredients or less.
2. Where did it come from?
Did your food come from a farmer that lovingly cared for his crops or did it come from a factory where some guy in a chemical suit pushed it down a conveyor belt? If you buy into the notion that your food carries certain energy in it, then you'll likely want to pay attention to this question. Even if you don't subscribe to this particular way of thinking, it's still smart to know the answer to this question. Chances are the food that came from the farmer is healthier for you than the food that came from the factory. Don't believe me? Refer back to question one.
Pro move: Befriend a local farmer or look into a food share in your area.
Rookie move: Start shopping farmer's markets.
3. Why am I eating it?
This is a big question! Are you eating because you are craving something specific? Are you craving salt, sugar or carbs? Are you eating because you are bored, lonely, sad or angry? Are you eating to fuel up for a workout? It's important to pinpoint why you are eating because doing so helps you identify issues with emotional eating.
We often eat for reasons other than hunger. Eating is how we celebrate, mourn and socialize. We go out to eat to celebrate birthdays; the family goes out for ice cream when the kids get good report cards; when there's a death in the family, we hold a luncheon to honor the departed; and it's not often you hear, "Let's meet for a walk in the park," but we often hear, "Let's meet for coffee!" The idea here is to get to a place where you are eating only to fuel your body or satisfy physical hunger.
Pro move: Journal before each meal to identify how you're feeling.
Rookie move: Rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. If you're at a 5 or less, you may be eating for a reason other than hunger.
4. How will I feel after I eat this?
Before you eat, think about how you will feel afterwards. Not just how you will physically feel, but how you'll emotionally feel as well. Will you feel guilty, angry or annoyed with yourself? Will you feel bloated? Will you have gas? Is this food item going to give you a headache? A stomachache? Will too much of this food keep you up all night?
I know lots of people that keep a food journal and write down everything they eat, but if you're only writing down the item and not how the food makes you feel, you're missing an important part of the equation. Paying attention to what your food does to you will help you figure out if you have any food allergies or sensitivities. It will also help you to identify triggers that cause you to overeat or eat the wrong things.
Pro move: Talk to a doctor about trying an elimination diet to truly get to the heart of your food allergies and/or sensitivities.
Rookie move: Keep a food log and write down how you feel after consuming each item. Look for patterns of what makes you feel good or bad.
With any luck, these four questions will help you make smarter food choices that will leave you feeling great. At the very least, asking yourself these questions before you eat will hopefully help you slow down and give you a chance to think about what you're about to consume, therefore, helping you practice mindful or conscious eating.
Eat well, everybody!