When’s the last time you ate mindfully? Tried a diet fad, sure. Attempted to go gluten-free for the week, yes (#struggle). Even detoxed to retox by giving up booze? Hi, me. Mindful eating on the other hand, is entirely different.
Board-certified dermatologist, Vinyasa-trained yoga instructor, and holistic nutrition expert, Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, is here to break down what this even means. And no, it’s not thinking about your next meal while consuming your current one. Instead, mindful eating focuses on practices that aid in better digestion and increased metabolism.
Things like eating when it’s light out instead of dark, drinking warm, not cold water with meals, and never eating alone, can make a huge difference in your overall gut health and also allow you to reach target weight goals – if that’s your thing. If not, it will still benefit your internal systems and we could all use a little more of that. Especially after a Sunday Funday rager brunch, am I right?
Heed Dr. Chwalek’s advice below and be on your way to eating mindfully.
1. Consider the Nutritional Value in Your Meals
Ask yourself: Does what I’m eating support and nourish my body? Or is it empty calories just serving to satiate a craving or emotion, which may leave me feeling overstuffed, fatigued and unfulfilled? It’s ok to splurge once in a while, but Dr. Chwalek suggests doing so by choosing smaller portions of higher-quality ingredients, like a small piece of good dark chocolate, so you don’t overdo it and feel sick. Another one of her tips for considering nutritional value? Eat the rainbow every day and at every meal. “I would much rather get my nutrition from food, than supplements,” she says.
2. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Even if you’re hangry as hell, say after a workout or a long day at work, Chwalek advises against making, buying, or ordering more food than you can actually stomach. “I try not to intake more than I can or need to consume since we waste so much food in this country,” she says. An easy tip for making this possible, when you’re ready to devour three helpings of the fridge leftovers staring you down? “Take a minute to think about where the food came from, acknowledge all those who were involved in the preparation, and give gratitude for the care that was put into it,” she explains. “This may seem silly, but when you really stop to consider all the people who were involved in the preparation of your salad for instance (right down to the farmers who farmed the vegetables and those involved in the transportation of the vegetables to the stores, etc), it expands your capacity for gratitude.”
3. Don’t Eat Alone
When you eat, be mindful of the process. “So often we are in a hurry in everyday life and eating on the go (literally running down the street or sitting in our cars) that we don’t have proper digestion,” says Chwalek. “This contributes to many of the GI [gastrointestinal] issues in our culture and there is research to support that when we eat alone, we are more likely to engage in poor eating habits and binge eat. Eating with others stimulates beneficial neurochemicals and improves digestion.” There you have it.
Commit to making lunch plans, even if that means eating your brown-bagged whatever outside on a stoop with a friend. The same thing goes for dinner. Try to plan more date nights at home cooking with bae or start a meal subscription club with your besties where everyone signs up for a different one and cooks one night a week. Not only will you be eating more mindfully, but cheaply as well.
4. Chew Slowly
According to Chwalek, noticing the texture and flavor of your food and savoring it in each bite also slows us down so we are less likely to overeat. “There is a quote by Yogi Bhajan that I love: ‘Don’t invite imbalance in your life.’ I think about this a lot when I’m planning what to eat or how to eat,” she adds.
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5. Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting seems to be blowing up right now, even though it’s been around for thousands of years. “It was intended as a purification practice to prepare the body for worship or meditation in many cultures and there is increasing evidence in western medicine showing that caloric restriction (or intermittent fasting) reduces oxidative damage and inflammation, improves energy and metabolism, and protects against some age-related diseases (such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer),” says Chwalek.
The most common ways to fast include the 16/8 method, where you fast every day for 14-16 hours and limit your eating window to 8-10 hours (not eating after dinner and skipping breakfast, or having a late one). Another alternative method is eating normally, but restricting calories to 500-600, once or twice a week or doing a 24-hour fast once a week.
6. Eat Your Biggest Meals When It’s Light Out, Not Dark
Eating your biggest meal during the day is important because this is when your digestive power is at its peak, according to Chwalek. “A 2017 study in Nutrition Reviews examined the relationship between circadian rhythms, eating behaviors, and the GI microbiome and showed that when we eat and the frequency between our meals also influence the gut microbiome and its metabolic activity,” she explains. Well duh, there’s no doubt about that one. When we eat a box of pasta post 8pm, we feel like sh*t by the next am, but when we have a bigger lunch and more time to digest it, followed by a light dinner, we too also feel lighter. Win-win.
7. Use Spices to Create More Satiety
Spice up your life! “Spices are important in stimulating our metabolism and improving digestion and the absorption of nutrients,” says Chwalek, “and when you eat spice-deficient food you’re more likely to overeat, crave sweets, and experience fatigue.” Maybe rethink that bland kale salad, mmkay? Try turmeric for stimulating antioxidant pathways and enhancing digestion, and cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric for regulating blood sugar.
8. Never Drink Cold Water with Meal
If you love to drink ice cold water with every meal, you may want to rethink. You’re actually doing your digestion a disservice according to Chwalek. “In Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, drinking cold water (especially after a warm meal) is felt to cause an imbalance in digestion since cold water contracts the stomach and makes it harder for you to digest and absorb food and/or liquid. Whereas warm water improves blood circulation and stimulates the digestive system, aiding in elimination and preventing constipation.” Lukewarm water for me, please!
If this has just made you drastically rethink a few of your fave eating habits, then check out these 5 diet myths too!