An Experts' Guide to Eating Mindfully

Mindfulness has become more and more popular over the past few years, as Westerners increasingly incorporate the practice of being more aware of the present moment into various aspects of life. The results can be powerful, particularly with respect to one’s health and wellbeing. “When you’re a witness to your actions, you’re able to make skillful decisions, and that’s where the mindfulness piece creates magic in people’s wellness journey,” integrative health and weight loss coach Audrey Zona of Zo Healthy in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, says. To better understand how a mindful approach to our diet and eating habits can have a positive impact on our bodies (and the world around us), we asked five health and wellness coaches to weigh in on why thinking about the foods we eat is so important. Here are their expert recommendations.

Consider that mindfulness is at the core of wellness. According to Emma Ryan of Emma Ryan Vitality Coaching in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, putting your focus on mindful eating has a threefold effect on your body. Here, she outlines them:

  • Physical health. When you slow down and make more calculated choices, Ryan says, it will change the cellular makeup of your body, leading to lower inflammation, weight loss, and an increase in energy.
  • Mental health. Our mental health goes hand in hand with our physical health. “Eating mindfully can provide a level of mental clarity that you may not have experienced before, which leaves you feeling mentally stable and less stressed,” Ryan notes.
  • Emotional health. Certain foods can cause internal stress, and when our internal stress is high, we can’t handle external stress as soundly, Ryan shares. However, when you are eating clean and being mindful, your internal stress goes down, which means you are more emotionally available to handle external stressors. Health coach Claire Lawlor of Williamsburg, Virginia-based Healthy Trails adds that studies estimate 90% of our serotonin is made in the gut, and therefore happy and healthy lifestyles depend on a mindful approach to wellness.

Change your mindset. Is slimming down a goal? Eating from a place of taking care of yourself versus eating to lose weight creates a wonderful, natural alignment, according to Zona. When you shift your awareness to eating to feel good, everything comes together with weight loss and health, she explains of deciding to focus on self-love instead of deprivation.

Recognize that food is fuel. When you feed your body the food it needs to thrive, you’ll end up feeling energized. Health and wellness coaches Kelle Cobble and Nina Lynch of Kelle and Nina Coaching in Park City, Utah, like to think of fueling the body like it’s a luxury vehicle as opposed to a rental car. When you eat a not-so-healthy indulgence like ice cream, it may be delicious, but you usually don’t feel great afterward, and may experience sluggishness and bloating. This doesn’t mean you have to ban foods that you love from your diet, just understand that as you become more tuned into what you eat, you may decide it’s not worth eating, and you’ll seek it out less often.

Acknowledge that your body is unique. When you’re mindful about what you’re eating, you’ll be able to recognize how your body responds to food—and this will be different for everyone. Lawlor, Cobble, and Lynch all note the importance of bio-individuality, meaning each person is unique, with highly individualized nutritional requirements. They stress that while your best friend might thrive on mountains of kale, that doesn’t mean it will have the same benefits for your body, cells, and digestive system. “Your body will tell you what it wants and needs if you’ll listen to it,” Lawlor says.

Drink more water. Drinking a minimum of 70 ounces of water per day will help hydrate your body and flush out toxins, Ryan explains. Plus, drinking more water will naturally curb cravings and allow you to check in with yourself before you eat, so you’ll likely make better, more mindful food choices.

Lead with fruit. Starting your day with a fresh piece of fruit or a bowl of berries provides phytonutrients and a long list of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to thrive. In addition, Ryan finds that having fresh fruit instead of a processed meal first thing often leads to better food decisions throughout the day.

Bring awareness to your hunger level. When you sit down to a meal, Zona recommends accessing how hungry you are, on a scale of 1-10, with 1 not being hungry and 10 being ravenous. While eating, you want to hover between 4-6 so that you’re satiated. “Throughout your meal, eat slowly and check in with yourself so you know when you’ve had enough,” she recommends. In time, this practice will become second nature.

Think before you eat and drink. All of our experts agree that we live in such a reactive state that we often don’t pay attention to what we’re really needing. Therefore, it’s helpful to ask yourself if what you’re about to eat or prepare is truly what your body needs. “Next time you’re standing in line at a coffee shop, ask your gut, ‘is coffee what you would like today?’” Lawlor says. Likewise, Katina Turner and Karen Fuhrman of Further Wellness Group in Asheville, North Carolina, recommend planning out your meals and knowing what you intend to buy before you go to the store, which helps keep you from making impulse buys that may not support your health.

Tap into your emotions. We often use food as a way to deal with the emotions we’re feeling, Zona says. When we “eat our feelings,” we usually end up feeling worse than before, and it starts a vicious cycle. To combat this, she recommends taking a moment before you start eating to see how you’re feeling, whether it be upset, anxious, annoyed, angry, or happy. “Take a breath and acknowledge your emotions, recognizing that you don’t need food to cope,” she suggests.

Don’t ignore the importance of chewing. The first act of the digestive process—chewing—is of utmost importance, as it activates digestive enzymes, Lawlor explains. If we aren’t taking the time to fully chew our food, our digestive system has more work to do, leading to stress, bloating, and constipation. Taking time to perform this action can make a huge difference in not only how we process the food we eat, but also in how we build awareness around when we are full.

Take a moment to appreciate—and delight in—your meal. Eating can be a joyful process, and there’s so much to take into account, from the farmer to grocery store staff to the person who prepared it (even if that was you), Cobble and Lynch explain. As you’re eating, appreciate everyone who brought the food to your plate and pause to enjoy the moment you’re in, whether that’s dining with friends or family, or enjoying a quiet meal by yourself. Turner and Furman stress the importance of savoring the food in front of you, enjoying the aroma, texture, and flavors, noting that fully immersing yourself in all aspects of eating will bring happiness to every meal.

 TSG Tip from Emma Ryan, owner of Emma Ryan Vitality Coaching  in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Audrey Zona, owner of Zo Healthy in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey; Kelle Cobble and Nina Lynch, owners of Kelle and Nina Coaching in Park City, Utah; Claire Lawlor, owner of Healthy Trails in Williamsburg, Virginia; and Katina Turner and Karen Fuhrman, owners of Further Wellness Group in Asheville, North Carolina. Emma Ryan Vitality Coaching is featured in The Scout Guide Oklahoma City. Zo Healthy is featured in The Scout Guide Bergen County. Kelle and Nina Coaching is featured in The Scout Guide Park City. Healthy Trails is featured in The Scout Guide Williamsburg & Chesapeake Bay. Further Wellness Group is featured in The Scout Guide Asheville.