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General Health

How to Start Eating Mindfully

The art of slowly savoring every bite of every meal is a key aspect of clean eating. Research shows that eating this way has countless mind-body benefits.

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We spoke with mindful-eating maven Susan Albers, PsyD, about her biggest breakthroughs while penning seven books on the very topic.

CE: What is mindful eating? 
SA: We’re often on autopilot when we eat. We just pick up the fork and eat and don’t really think much about it. Mindful eating is about being in the moment and savoring. It’s not a diet; it’s behavioral strategies, or being in the moment, so that you can savor and enjoy food.

CE: What are some key triggers of mindless eating? 
SA: Stress, boredom and anxiety. Simply having food present can cause it. There is a recent Cornell University study that looked at people’s kitchen counters. Those who had cereal and soda out in the open weighed up to 26 pounds more than those who didn’t. We often have a lot of associations, too. If you snack while watching TV, try to shake up your routine. You could TiVo your favorite show and watch it at a different time. Or snack only during the commercials, with the TV on mute, so you can give eating your full attention.

CE:Most offices are pastry-and-birthday-cake boobie traps. What are your strategies for the workplace?
SA: The first solution sounds simple but is actually pretty challenging: Sit down at a table while you eat. Eating at your desk facilitates being distracted by your computer. Give your desk a mindfulness makeover and put any unhealthy snacks out of sight. Make a healthy snack bowl for your desk. Have water within reach – staying hydrated prevents overeating.

CE: How can one snack more mindfully?
SA: Practice eating the foods you love when you are feeling calm, not in the middle of a craving. I love snacking on pistachios. They slow you down since you have to open each one. I also like one square of chocolate. Mandarin oranges is another. You can say, “I am going to eat each section mindfully.” With one section try deep breathing and with another do some shoulder shrugs or stretching.

Related: 5 Health Risks of Eating Too Fast

CE: It sounds a little like meditation.
SA: Meditation is definitely a component of mindful eating. It’s about calming your mind and training your mind to be present. What’s exciting about mindful eating is that there’s a lot of research coming out about it. It has shown to help people reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes, lose weight and have a better body image. There’s one study that shows it helps reduce the number of calories people eat in a day by about 300.

CE: How can you zap cravings for junk?
SA: First ask yourself, are you really having a craving for a particular food or is it emotional? If you are craving chips, be mindful about portions and sit down at the table to enjoy. Just pour some into a bowl and put the bag away. A study done on chocolate shows that the feel-good feeling people get from eating it lasts for only 3 minutes. Healthier foods sustain you a lot longer. So ask yourself, is the chocolate really worth those 3 minutes or not?

CE: Any advice for the hasty eaters? 
SA: My favorite tip is to eat with your non-dominant hand. It helps you to focus and become more mindful of your eating.

CE: How should one properly chew?
SA: Chewing slowly is important. We tend to unconsciously mimic the pace of the people we’re eating with. Take note of how quickly your dining companions are eating and try to stagger your bites with them or eat just a little bit slower.

Susan Albers, PsyD, is a Cleveland Clinic psychologist and New York Times best-selling author of seven books on eating mindfully.