Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Mindful eating: A conscious approach to health

Published October 5, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Mindful eating is important in achieving better health, but many people don’t understand what mindful means, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Mindfulness is usually associated with meditation and stress relief, but it can also be a powerful tool when choosing what we eat, how we're eating, and how our choices affect our health and our environment. Let's take a closer look at how we can apply mindfulness to our everyday eating behaviors,” said educator Kristin Bogdonas.

To be mindful is to be aware so so let’s be aware of “who, what, when, where, why, and how” we are eating, she said.

Why are you eating? Are you hungry? Are you experiencing stress? Are you sad? Are you celebrating? Keep a food journal and watch for trends in your eating habits. You may discover that you eat more high-fat, high-calorie foods when you are stressed. If you’re aware of this trend, you’ll be able to look for other ways to relieve stress that don't involve energy-dense foods that may ultimately lead to weight gain, Bogdonas said.

What are you eating? Pay attention to food labels, ingredient lists, and sourcing. Avoid foods, such as refined sugars and carbohydrates, that trigger a stress response in your body. If you see refined sugars and carbs listed in the first five ingredients, find something else. Remember, you are what you eat. And opt for quality over quantity, she advised.

When are you eating? Avoid skipping meals if possible. Instead try to evenly space your meals and snacks throughout the day, which is easier on your body's digestive system, she noted.

Who is growing your food, and where does your food come from? Several factors affect nutrition content such as variety, production method, post-harvest handling, storage, and transportation. Local food is usually higher in nutrition content simply because it has traveled a shorter distance and the varieties chosen are for taste, not shelf stability, she said.

How are you eating? Engage your five senses and slow down to really appreciate and savor the experience. Eating is very sensual and perhaps our greatest weapon against disease, she said.

How many items can you check off in the following Awareness Checklist? Bogdonas said that mindful eating takes practice and should be carried out every day for best results.

Awareness Checklist

Am I sitting?

Am I eating fast or slow?

Mindlessly munching or savoring each bite?

Multitasking or focused on my meal?

Listening to my hunger cues (hungry, satisfied, full)?

Eating out of boredom, stress, or anxiety?

Mindless Eating

Emotional eating

Grazing without tasting each bite

Eating on schedule whether you're hungry or not

Skipping meals, not paying attention to hunger cues

Mindlessly munching while watching TV or driving

Binging, then feeling guilty

“I like this Zen proverb: When walking, walk. When eating, eat,” Bogdonas said.

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