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What is Mindful Eating and How We Achieve It

Growing up, did you ever hear the words "you need to finish everything on your plate..." either before dessert, or to avoid waste, or because there were starving children elsewhere in the world.

While this isn't a hard and fast rule, this may have been around the time where you started losing your hunger and fullness cues and working off of forced feelings around eating everything on your plate.

The same goes for people who either weren't allowed foods as kids, or don't allow themselves things as adults. This often comes with hiding foods, binging behaviors and other eating practices that don't rely on natural cues.

The thing with mindful eating is that some people have this down pat, and other people do not. The vast majority of us are born with the ability to regulate our food. Think of young babies or toddlers--they eat when they are hungry, they stop when they are full and they eat things on their plates that they need and want. As we age, this natural ability gets to be less.

Mindful eating or intuitive eating is the practice of being able to eat intuitively by following your body's cues on what you want and need.

Mindful eaters will acknowledge what they would truly like to eat, assess how hungry they truly are, assess what their goals are and then eat accordingly. For some, this may look like ordering a large salad because hunger levels are high, the need for protein and vegetable is there and volume is important. For others, this may look like ordering a burger with a side of steamed broccoli instead of fries because they really want some red meat and enjoy burgers, but also have goals of weight loss.

In all these scenarios, there is no guilt around eating, no uncomfortable fullness, no binging and no reconciling for the meal with exercise, less food the next day or anything else of the sort.

If you're reading this and you feel so far from the person that can eat this way, you're not alone. And you're also not out of luck. Mindful/intuitive eating is possible for everyone.

One of the most important factors of eating this way is taking away all good/bad association with food. No foods are good or bad, no foods are extensively off limits (unless you're allergic or sensitive). If you truly want something, you can have it. This is one of the biggest mindset hurdles with mindful eating because restriction leads to a mentality of having to have something when it's around or overeating because it's special. When none of these food rules exist, you can have something without the need to eat it all.

Understanding your hunger and fullness levels is another important factor. When foods we like are around us, we ultimately overeat, especially in restaurant or social situations. This doesn't have to be the case. First, assess your hunger on a 0-10 scale. A 0 is not hungry at all, while a 10 means you're so hungry you'll eat anything. While you're eating, assess your fullness. A 0 here means you're not full at all--you could keep eating for days whereas a 10 is that you have to unbutton your pants and lay down. For a general rule, you want to end your meal around a 5 or a 6 here. You're comfortably satisfied but not overly stuffed.

Deciding what you truly want, what will satisfy you and what is worth it to you or not is the next step. Don't order or have something just because it's the lowest calorie thing on the menu or because you don't have to make changes to it. Don't be afraid to play with different combinations of foods, try new things or explore. A meal that isn't satisfying to you is likely to cause you to overeat, or eat something later because you don't feel the satisfaction you were looking for, despite the calories you consumed. You're better off mindfully eating something you truly want. The same goes for things like dessert--do you even want it or do you want it because it's available? Assess what you actually want or don't want and whether it's a worthwhile investment of your time and energy.

Lastly, practice makes perfect. Just like anything else, you'll need to spend some time eating this way in order for you to have success. Mindful eating goes for any time in your life--even if you're tracking calories, or something else. You can make purposeful food choices based on your goals and needs at any time. In fact, mindful eating practices work very well in combination with a health and fitness goal because it helps you to adjust choices based on how you feel or felt (for example, you ate a full meal and were hungry 20 minutes later).

How do you feel about mindful eating? Where do you struggle with it?

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