Pamela Malo, MHS, RD, Arivale Coach
Are you hungry? Good. Take a bite. Chew slowly. How does it taste? What is the texture? What flavors can you pin down? Swallow. Assess. How do you feel now? Still hungry? Great. Take another bite.
Mindful eating is the practice of bringing awareness to your food choices and eating habits while avoiding judging yourself. It can help bring clarity to the questions, “Am I eating because I am hungry, or because I am stressed or bored or emotional?” and “Am I stopping because I am satisfied, or because I can’t fit in another bite?” It can also help you appreciate your meals or even the occasional indulgences without going overboard.
Research shows that mindful eating practices can be a powerful tool to support weight maintenance in the long term.1 Why? It brings clarity to your food choices, which can make it easier to sustain healthy changes to your eating habits.
Using Mindfulness to Identify Hunger
One way to bring mindfulness to your eating habits is by quantitatively answering the question, “Am I hungry?”
Assign a value to your hunger level on a scale from 1 to 10. On this scale, 1 is “Hungry enough to eat your left arm,” and 10 is “So full I feel sick.”
Next, assign a value to the question, “Am I full?” using the same scale.
To get started, track your hunger and fullness for three days to see which patterns emerge. Set up a schedule and check in with yourself every three hours (in general, you don’t want to go more than four waking hours without eating). Assess where you land on this scale when you start your meal and when you finish eating. Write down your answers so you remember them.
One pattern that may emerge from your three-day experiment is that you realize you can’t reliably recognize your hunger. This may be a side effect from chronic dieting, where hunger cues have been denied for prolonged periods in order to restrict intake. Studies have shown that people who are overweight may have difficulty identifying physical hunger for a variety of other reasons as well.
Mindful eating practices are a great tool to get you back in touch with your hunger cues. If you’re an Arivale Pioneer, talk with your Arivale Coach about making this one of your goals.
Making Mindful Eating a Daily Practice
If you know you can reliably detect physical hunger, aim to sit down to eat when your hunger is at a 3 or 4 (when you first start to feel hunger pangs), and to stop eating when your hunger is at a 5 or 6 (to the point of “Neutral” or “Satisfied”).
The difference might feel subtle at first, so practice “listening” when you eat. Try eating in a quiet environment, undistracted, and see if you can notice a difference between a 3 and a 6.
Habitually eating to the point of “Stuffed” is not only uncomfortable, it means you are consuming more fuel than your body can use, which can contribute to weight gain. It can also make you feel sluggish, have difficulty focusing, and negatively impact your sleep quality.
Most of the time, you should aim to eat towards a 6, or “Satisfied.” Of course, there will be times when you eat more than you need (a special celebration, for example), but you should strive to make “Satisfied” your new norm.
If you are curious and want to explore mindful eating, talk to your Arivale Coach about how to customize this practice in your life. The effort you put in to raise your awareness around your eating patterns will pay dividends any time you want to make a lifestyle change.
1. Mason AE, Epel ES, Aschbacher K, Lustig RH, Acree M, Kristeller J, Cohn M, Dallman M, Moran PJ, Bacchetti P, Laraia B, Hecht FM,Daubenmier J ”Reduced reward-driven eating accounts for the impact of a mindfulness-based diet and exercise intervention on weight loss: Data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial.” Appetite. 2016 May 1;100:86-93. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.009. Epub 2016 Feb 8.