This week’s UpForIt podcast, which is entitled 7 Mindful Eating Tips, is largely based on material produced by the US National Eating Disorders Association.

When we are mindful it means that we are fully present in-the-moment without judgment. When it comes to eating, mindfulness helps to amplify the volume of our body’s cues so that we can hear loud and clear when we are hungry and when we have had enough to eat. Many social and environmental factors can get in the way of being able to accurately decode our body’s feedback. Mindfulness helps us break routine eating habits by allowing us to examine the thoughts, feelings and internal pressures that affect how and why we eat or don’t eat.

Tip # 1. Shift out of Autopilot Eating

What is ‘autopilot eating’? Eating at the same time each day can be seen as a form of autopilot eating. For example, if we were to ask someone – a colleague at work or a friend – “ what time do you eat breakfast?”, the odds are we will probably be given a time of day, for example “at 7 or otherwise we may be told “I don’t eat breakfast”. Most people who eat breakfast tend to eat at the same time on most days. And then those who say that they don’t eat breakfast also see not eating in the context of time. If we consider the word breakfast, we find that it is a ‘portmanteau’ word. In other words, it is a word that is made up of two words: break and fast. Breakfast is not a time of the day but an event during which we break our overnight fast. And so e those people who say they don’t eat breakfast actually do so the minute they break their overnight fast, even if this only happens much later during the day.

Another example of autopilot eating relates to what we eat when we break our overnight fast, or at any other meal for that matter. Again if we were to ask people, “What did you have for breakfast?, we will find that not only do many people eat breakfast at the same time almost every day, but they eat the same thing day in and day out.

It’s important that we switch off autopilot eating when we find that we are stuck in any kind of rut or routine. It’s time then to think about using alternative approaches to eating especially at breakfast as this is the meal that is probably most subject to autopilot eating. If this happens then think about choosing a balanced low-carb meal replacement, especially if in a rush to get to work, or even giving intermittent fasting a try. Extending an overnight fast to 15 or 16 hours brings with it a number of health benefits.

Tip # 2. Take Mindful Bites

Did you ever eat an entire plate of food and not taste one single bite? Bring all of your senses to the dinner table. Breathe in the aroma of a roast, a curry or your favourite dish. Notice the texture of yogurt on your tongue. Truly taste your food. Savour each bite from start to finish.

Tip # 3. Attentive Eating

Sure, you’re busy and have a lot ‘on your plate’ (pun intended). It’s hard to make eating a priority rather than an option or just an activity. When you eat, give eating 100% of your attention. Try to avoid multitasking while you eat because this can distract you. See eating as refueling your body, after all it’s a very, very important activity. And so when you eat, concentrate on what you are eating and enjoy your food!

Tip #4. Mindfully Check In

On a scale of one to ten – ask yourself, “how hungry am I?” Now don’t eat if you score a 1, 2 or 3, which indicates that you may not really be hungry. And try and have something eat before you get to 10, which indicates being very hungry! Gauging your hunger level is a little like taking your temperature. Each time you eat, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Aim to eat until you are satisfied, leaving yourself neither stuffed nor starving.

Tip# 5. Thinking Mindfully

Observe how critical thoughts like “I don’t want to regain the kilos I lost last month or last year” or “I’m so stupid, how could I do that!” can creep into your consciousness. Just because you think these thoughts doesn’t mean you have to act on them or let them sway your emotions. Negative thoughts can trigger overeating or stop you from adequately feeding your hunger.

Remember that a thought is just a thought: it’s not something that has to be acted on.

Tip #6. Mindful Speech

Chit chatting about dieting and fat is so commonplace that we often aren’t truly aware of the impact it might have on our self-esteem or that of others. When you are with friends and family, be mindful of your gut reaction to “fat talk”, for example engaging in a “I’m so fat!- no you’re not” debate. Keep in mind how words we use might affect someone struggling with food issues.

Tip #7. Mindful Eating Support

Friends and family can provide an enormous amount of support, but sometimes it’s helpful to obtain assistance or a second opinion from a trained professional. If you would like to learn more about mindful eating, or if you have concerns about your eating habits, please go to the UpForIt website and register for a free personal health coaching trial or email me at askdrhill@upforit.co.za

I’m Dr Peter Hill for UpForIt, till next week: stay mindful, healthy & safe.