How You Eat Is As Important As What You Eat


Do you want to lose weight and feel you know "what to eat" but just can't seem to stick with your healthy eating plan (or diet)?


Eating well for health and weight management requires understanding two components: What to eat and how to eat.


Mindful eating will help you improve the "how to eat" part.


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It is true, to lose weight, a person must learn some basics of healthy eating, such as recommended serving sizes of foods and how to plan balanced meals and snacks. Mindful eating and attention to the body are equally as important, however, and often not a part of popular diet plans.


Evidence is strong and growing that the practice of mindfulness meditation brings benefits to the lives of those who use it. Mindfulness can be described simply as focusing attention to what is happening in the present moment. UW Integrative Health offers a popular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. They describe Mindfulness Meditation as "the art of paying attention, of listening to your heart. Rather than withdrawing from the world, mindfulness can help you enjoy it more fully, effectively and peacefully."


Eating mindfully is a part of learning "how to eat." How can we apply mindfulness to eating? Mindful eating is paying attention while eating, tuning into our body's signals for food and its response to the food we are eating.


"Mindless" Eating


In America, eating is often rushed, squeezed in, multi-tasked, and on-the-run. While pushing ahead to what may seem like more important demands (work, family, etc.), we eat when we can, often quickly, and, well, mindlessly.


We may be distracted by television, work, or the computer while we eat. Many people eat very quickly and feel too full by the time they stop eating. Have you ever been eating something and started reaching for more, only to realize you have eaten the whole thing and didn't really even taste it? This is an example of mindless eating.


Too often, popular diet plans teach followers to trust only external signals for when and how much to eat for health or weight management. They teach strict portion control, prescribed meal times, and rules about "good" or "bad" foods. Dieting in this fashion often leads a person to become increasingly out of touch with internal hunger and satiety (fullness) signals. Could this be part of the reason why traditional "diets" fail so many people? As Dr. Michelle May, MD, author of the book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, has observed, "if hunger didn't signal you to start eating, how do you know when to stop?"


Using mindfulness practices to rebuild connections with these internal hunger and fullness cues will help you learn to regulate food and reach your health goals. Mindful eating allows you to feel in control and enjoy the experience of eating so much more.


One of the core principles for weight management that dietitians at UW Health teach is the need to rebuild the connection with hunger and satiety signals in the body. This starts with attention - learn to recognize the signals again, and then begin to trust and respond to them.


Mindful Eating


You can begin with a few simple steps. Remember, mindfulness is a practice. Experiment a little every day and see what you learn. Get curious about your current habits and observe what happens when you try the mindful eating tips below. Does eating feel any different? Try adding the principles of mindful eating into your meal and snack times and observe the results.


Mindful eating:

  • Pay attention to the food that you eat, minimizing distractions
  • Sit down, slow down and savor your meals and snacks
  • Pay attention to your senses: smell, taste and texture of food
  • Slow down your eating, chewing food thoroughly
  • Tune into your body signals of hunger and fullness
  • Eat when hungry and stop at a comfortable level of fullness

Asking yourself a series of questions may help you to further explore and improve mindful eating. "What is happening right now?" "Am I hungry?" "What am I really hungry for?"


As you continue to explore healthful eating and managing food portions, remember that learning "how to eat" is just as important as learning "what to eat."


UW Health's Registered Dietitians provide accurate, evidence-based nutrition information that promotes health and wellness to empower individuals to make healthy lifestyle changes that will enhance their health. Recommendations may vary based on your individual health history. For a personalized nutrition plan contact UW Health to schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. For more nutrition information, visit the Nutrition and Health Library.


How Do You Eat?


Do you pay attention to what you're eating, or do you prefer to eat while watching television?