Health and Wellness
By Anu Kaur

Mindfulness: The Power to Transform

Are you so busy that you multi-task in all areas of your life, including your eating habits? Functioning at maximum level, how many of us have eaten lunch in front of the computer or in the car, skipped a meal or inhaled something that our taste buds did not even catch? Is your schedule packed with meetings, chores, deadlines and social obligations? Have you ever found yourself in front of the candy dish at work without even remembering walking to it? Maybe you actually do sit down and have a meal, but you’re so preoccupied while eating that you still don’t taste the food.

If that is the case, mindfulness can be a wonderful tool to begin using in your life. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on autopilot. In today’s busy, information-loaded world, multi-tasking has become the accepted norm and eating is no exception. However, mindless and unaware eating can have an effect on us, both psychologically and physically—and eventually takes a toll on our body and overall quality of life.

More and more research is showing that mindfulness can play a role in managing stress, depression, anxiety and medical conditions such as heart disease, obesity and disordered eating. The beauty of mindfulness is that it is simple and available to you at all times.

What is Mindful Eating?
As babies we eat instinctively—in other words, we eat when we’re hungry. Over time most of us train ourselves to eat in response to certain emotional or environmental cues, which have us reaching for food even if we’re not hungry. Mindful eating is about understanding why and how you eat, and it means approaching eating with patience, acceptance and trust.

To practice mindful eating, do a quick assessment of how hungry you are before you start to chow down on the food in front of you, whether it be a bag of Doritos or a gourmet meal. Remember to neutrally observe yourself as you eat and acknowledge how full you are when you are done eating. You always have a choice in how much you eat.

Mindful hunger checks allow you to make choices with awareness. Notice the sensation of satiety or fullness. How does it feel to be overly full versus two-thirds full? When it comes to healthy eating, satiety cues, such as feeling a slight stretch to the stomach, feeling energetic and feeling satisfied, are just as important as hunger cues like hunger pain, irritability and poor concentration.

We all have unique triggers for mindless eating; acknowledging personal triggers (fatigue, boredom, watching TV) and coming up with an alternative can minimize mindless emotional eating.

Paying attention to how something tastes can provide another level of satisfaction to your eating experience. For example, how do limp, cold fries taste compared with crispy, piping hot fries? Take a moment to ask yourself, “How does this taste?” Also, mindfully chewing your food slowly several times before you swallow helps in digestion, and flavors are different with each bite. In a world where most of us gobble our food, this basic step of taking time to appreciate sensory aspects such as the flavor, smell and sizzle of food and spices can lead to a more enjoyable experience. Noticing the nuances helps us cultivate an appreciation for the food we are eating and how it nourishes us.

A Lesson in Mindfulness
For losing weight, long-term sustainable success is not about restricting food; it is about observing non-judgmentally what and how you eat. For me, mindfulness while I eat and “check-ins” throughout the day are tools that have carried me a long way, even more so than nutrition knowledge.

Anu is the owner and president of “A Nu Healthy You,” a nutrition private practice in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. She is a health practitioner of Integrative Medical Nutrition Therapy and specializes in women’s health in the South Asian community.

Anu is also the recipient of the 2009 Emerging Dietetic Leadership Award presented by the American Dietetic Association. Visit www.ANuHealthyYou.com to find out more about her integrative approach, read her blog and sign up for her free newsletter featuring upcoming workshops for newlyweds and new moms as well as information about her wellness packages.

Tips for Mindful Eating

1. Arrive. Come to your meal and eat in a specific place. Acknowledge that you are eating.

2. Check in. Ask the simple question: Am I hungry and if so, how hungry? This helps you learn to eat until you are full, rather than until the food is gone.

3. Slow down. Take the time to eat and appreciate the food. The entire experience can be completely different from when you’re eating quickly.

4. Be curious. Think about the food you eat and where it comes from. A healthy dose of gratitude for each grain of rice can affect us.

5. Savor. Take pleasure in eating. Food is not just about calories or restricting them. Rather, it is about pausing and soaking it all in.

Soon after I had my second child I found myself aware of the extra post-pregnancy pounds. Every night after I put my little ones to bed, I sighed with satisfied relief. I was finished and tired to the bones. If I listened to my body, it was screaming for me to go to sleep. But I stubbornly ignored the physical signs and pushed on, think this was “my time.” I typically made myself a cup of tea and ate some dessert—any dessert would do.

This went on for some time until I couldn’t block my body’s whisper that something wasn’t right. Without judging myself, I started to acknowledge how hungry I was before I sat down for my tea and dessert. I took note of whether I was enjoying my experience or just eating to eat. I became really good at discerning what my palate appreciated and what it did not.

I asked myself the question, “Am I eating my entire dessert because it is on my plate or because I had room for dessert and am savoring every morsel?”

Over time, I started taking one bite less because I remembered how it felt to be uncomfortably full, but I did not give up dessert and tea. I learned to acknowledge and observe how I craved sweets when I was tired. Because I gave myself permission to watch this behavior neutrally, I found myself craving the “me time” more strongly than the food. I recognized eventually the treat I loved was to have down time for me and not so much the dessert.

The Gift of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating helps uncover parts of ourselves that we usually bypass as we rush through our day focusing on either the past or the future. Mindfulness is about the present, and mindful eating is the opportunity to enjoy your eating experience at a new level.

Consider mindfulness as you start 2010 and see what personal discoveries come your way. I eventually realized I didn’t like sweets as much as I enjoy crunchy and light savories. Who knew? I discovered this preference once I gave myself permission to slow down.

Ultimately mindful eating is about your life attitude. Do you choose to be present in the moment and enjoy the food that nourishes you? The gift of mindful eating is to give you a richer experience. Over time, the practice of mindfulness seeps into the rest of your life. Enjoy this New Year’s gift and share your experience with us.



Anu Kaur is a registered dietitian and certified wellness coach with a B.S. in psychology and minor in biology and M.S. in dietetics/nutrition. Find out more about Anu’s mindful and wellness perspective at her blog, A Nu Healthy You, and sign up for her free monthly email newsletter at www.ANuHealthyYou.com. If you liked this article, please share on Twitter. Comments? Anu@ANuHealthyYou.com.