By Michelle May, M.D.
Co-author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes
Have you ever finished a meal and wished you had just one more bite? Are you surprised when your hand hits the bottom of the popcorn bucket at the movies? Do you ever feel completely stuffed and miserable after you eat?
These are all symptoms of mindless or unconscious eating.
Many people eat while they watch TV, drive, work—even while talking on the telephone. And many people eat too fast, so busy filling the next forkful that they don’t notice the bite in their mouth. Since your brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, you’ll miss the subtle signs of fullness so you won’t stop until you feel uncomfortable or until you run out of food. Most importantly, you won’t enjoy your food as much so you have to eat more to feel satisfied.
Eating is a natural, healthy, and pleasurable activity that meets your fuel and nutritional needs. The bottom line is that diabetes self-management isn't just about what you eat. How you eat matters just as much.
Choosing to eat “mindfully,” in other words, giving food and eating your full attention, will allow you to have optimal satisfaction and enjoyment without eating to excess.
Mindfulness helps you identify hunger before your blood glucose it too low. Mindful eating also makes it possible for you to experience the difference between physical satisfaction and fullness. Mindful eating also allows you to feel more satisfied with smaller quantities of food, which helps with blood glucose management. Learning to savor your food simply makes eating more pleasurable. Knowing what satisfies you and getting the most pleasure from your eating experiences are key factors for a lifetime of diabetes self-management.
Try the following strategies to help you identify your body’s signals and truly enjoy your food:
- Start by recognizing whether you’re hungry before you begin eating. If you aren’t hungry, you won’t be as interested so it will be harder to stay focused. Besides, if a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it.
- Don’t wait until you’re famished. One of the keys to conscious eating is to keep your body adequately fed to avoid becoming overly hungry which increases the chance that you’ll overeat. Check your blood glucose to help you learn how to identify hunger before you are too low.
- Next, decide how full you want to be when you’re finished eating. When you eat with the intention of feeling better when you’re done eating, you’re less likely to keep eating until the food is gone.
- Choose food that will satisfy both your body and your mind. Our society is so obsessed with eating right that we sometimes eat things we don’t even like. However, satisfaction comes not just from fullness but from enjoying the taste of your food--without guilt. Feeling guilty about eating certain foods actually causes more overeating, not less.
- Set the table in a pleasant manner. Creating a pleasant ambience adds to the enjoyment of eating and to your level of satisfaction. Besides, you deserve it.
- Eat without distractions. If you eat while you’re distracted by watching television, driving, or talking on the telephone, you won’t be giving your food or your body’s signals your full attention. As a result, you may feel full but not satisfied.
- Eat when you’re sitting down. Choose one or two particular areas at home and at work that are only used for eating and eat only there. For example, do not eat while standing over the sink, peering into the refrigerator or sitting in bed.
- Appreciate the occasion. Appreciate the atmosphere, the company, or simply the fact that you’re giving yourself the opportunity to sit down and enjoy your meal.
- Take a few breaths and center yourself before you begin eating. This will help you slow down and give eating your full attention.
- Appreciate the aroma and the appearance of your food. Notice the colors, textures, and smells of the food and imagine what it will taste like.
- Decide which food looks the most appetizing and start eating that food first. If you save the best until last, you may want to eat it even if you are full.
- Savor the aromas and tastes of your food as you eat it. Put your fork down between bites and be conscious of all the different sensations you are experiencing.
- If you notice that you’re not enjoying what you chose, choose something else if possible. Eating food you don’t enjoy will leave you feeling dissatisfied.
- Pause in the middle of eating for at least two full minutes. Estimate how much more food it will take to fill you to comfortable satiety.
- Push your plate forward or get up from the table as soon as you feel satisfied. The desire to keep eating will pass quickly. Keep in mind that you’ll eat again when you’re hungry.
- Notice how you feel when you’re finished eating. If you overate, don’t punish yourself. Instead, be aware of the physical and/or emotional discomfort that often accompanies being overly full and create a plan to decrease the likelihood that you’ll overeat next time.
Once you’ve experienced the increased pleasure from eating mindfully, you may be motivated to become more mindful during other activities too. Living “in the moment” and becoming more aware can increase your enjoyment and effectiveness in everything you do.