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When it comes to healthy eating, how and why we eat are just as important as what we eat. Too often we eat when we are rushed, distracted, bored, stressed, or anxious. This can lead to overeating, digestive upset, and feelings of guilt around food. Eating mindfully reconnects us to our body’s internal hunger cues and helps us to break the habit of using food as a way to deal with our emotions. The process of slowing down, taking a few deep breaths before eating, and chewing our food thoroughly can alleviate digestive issues such as gas, bloating, inconsistent bowel movements, and heartburn.

Mindful eating isn’t a diet or about being restrictive on what foods you eat. It’s about being aware of what’s on your mind when you eat, and retraining yourself to just be present, enjoy the experience and pleasure of food, and listen when your body is satisfied. Here are four tips to getting started:

  1. Sit down to eat without distractions and take five deep breaths. Deep breathing calms the mind and body and brings you into the present moment. If it feels comfortable, take a moment to acknowledge the time and effort that went into preparing your meal.
  1. Engage your senses and take a moment to notice the aroma, flavor and texture of your food (for example, sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy, smooth). The majority of what you taste is based on what you smell.
  1. Put your fork down between bites and chew your food thoroughly. Chewing food is the first step in the digestive process, and makes it easier for our stomach and digestive tract to breakdown and extract the nutrients from our food.
  1. Be aware of your hunger level and aim to stop eating when you are satisfied rather than full. Food left over on your plate can be packed away and eaten at another meal.

One of the biggest barriers to eating mindful is lack of time. Start by picking one meal a day and commit to eating mindfully for the first five minutes. Notice if it is difficult for you to just sit and eat, and be aware of what emotions come up. Remember not to be too hard on yourself. You’re not supposed to be able to make the switch to mindfulness overnight. It gets easier with time and is a practice worth working towards.