Do you have a habit of eating when you are bored, lonely, stressed out, depressed or tired? Sometimes we find ourselves eating, not because we are hungry, but because we are experiencing emotions that prompt us to reach out to food for comfort.

What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating means being conscious of why you are eating. This simple concept has helped people struggling with weight issues, eating disorders, body image and self-esteem. It is not about following recipes or counting calories. It’s about learning how and why you eat. Mindful eating helps us to move away from the diet mentality and puts us in touch with our inner self. The more you are in touch with your hunger and fullness, the less you need to count calories.

Eat, drink and be mindful
During a mindful meal, you are diligently attentive to your body, mind, thoughts and feelings as you eat.

This involves listening to your body and being in touch with your inner self. How does your body tell you when it’s hungry or full? Does your stomach rumble? Do you experience low energy levels or hunger pains? Do you ignore your body’s feedback? A good rule of thumb is to eat when your hunger scale is between 3 and 6 (on a scale of 1 to 10). At level 1 you are beyond hungry. You are totally out of energy, can’t concentrate and feel dizzy. At level 10, you are beyond full or stuffed, experiencing a typical Thanksgiving dinner feeling — you are physically miserable, don’t want to or can’t move and feel like you never want to look at food again. Conscious awareness of what is going on inside your body helps you know when you are satisfied, rather than stuffed or starving.
Are you concentrating and paying attention to every bite, or are you eating mindlessly without paying attention to the texture, temperature, taste or sound of food? Eat your food slowly and pay attention to every single bite. People often say, “I don’t know how I finished off that entire bag of chips in one sitting.” Pay attention to the quantity of food that you consume instead of eating or snacking mindlessly.
What emotions do you experience that may trigger you either to start or stop eating? Sometimes the strongest longings for food happen when you are at your weakest point emotionally. Many people turn to food for comfort — either consciously or unconsciously — when they’re facing a difficult problem or looking to keep themselves occupied. Pay attention to how you are feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Sometimes coping with your feelings is more important than changing the type of foods you eat.
Be mindful of your thoughts regarding your body weight or eating habits. Negative thoughts may trigger mindless eating. Pay careful attention to “should” and “should not” thoughts, critical thoughts ("I’m so fat!"), food rules and “good” and “bad” food categories. If you make a mistake, learn to forgive yourself and focus on the positive changes you are making in your eating habits. Give yourself credit for making changes that ensure better health.

Learn more about mindfulness through MU Extension's Taking Care of You program. Find a class near you!

Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating & Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food, by Susan Albers