Published on 24 May 2024

Mindful Eating in Summer | The Leaf

The idea of “mindful eating” has been trending lately on social media and other news feeds, but it’s not new. It is becoming a more popular practice these days because it is a simple but effective way to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid eating too much.

Summer is a great time to begin the practice of mindful eating because you are exposed to so many temptations, from visits to the ice cream stand to backyard cookouts. Mindful eating can help you to stay on track with your weight loss while you enjoy your warm weather meals more than ever.

What is Mindful Eating?

people eating healthy food

Mindfulness comes from the practice of meditation and other types of focused attention. Its purpose is to help you to be focused on the present moment and the sensations that you feel at the time. You might think of it as “hyper-awareness” of yourself and the immediate surroundings.

Mindful eating is a way to hold your attention on the food you are eating, its tastes and aromas, where it comes from, how it was prepared and by whom, and how you feel as you eat. It may sound complicate, but it’s actually quite simple to put mindful eating to work in your life.

It takes a little effort to remind yourself to be mindful, and there are strategies that help (more on that coming up), but the rewards are worth it. Your experience of food will be richer and more gratifying, and you will feel better when you’ve finished a meal. Bonus: Mindful eating can help you reach your ideal weight!

Benefits of Mindful Eating in Summer

A sign reading Mindful Eating surrounded by vegetables

The simple act of focusing your attention at mealtime can make a dramatic difference in how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. Health researchers have been learning a lot about it.

“The practice of mindfulness has helped thousands of people to…develop the skills necessary to manage chronic pain, disease, depression, sleeping problems, and anxiety,” says a report in Diabetes Spectrum, the journal of the American Diabetes Association.

Natural Portion Control and Healthier Choices

The act of conscious eating slows you down during meals, allowing you to recognize when you have had enough before you overdo it. Portion control becomes a natural part of eating.

You may be more likely to choose healthy foods when you practice mindful eating. A study, published in the journal Health Education and Behavior, followed a group of middle-aged people with Type 2 diabetes who were trained in mindful eating and practiced it for three months. At the end of the study, they “had a significant increase in fruit and vegetable consumption” as compared to a control group.  This is great news for your summer diet because it is peak season for many favorite fruits and vegetables.

Enjoyment and Gratitude

Slowing down while you’re eating also gives you a fuller experience of the ingredients and how their tastes, textures, and aromas please your senses. You have a chance to take it all in and satisfy your cravings.

Thinking about the people who helped produce your food and who was involved in the act of preparing it deepens your appreciation of the ingredients and the process of cooking it. This can lead to feelings of gratitude, which can continue after you finished eating.

By contrast, “mindless or distracted eating, is associated with anxiety, overeating, and weight gain,” according to research published in the journal Appetite.

Tips for Practicing Mindful Eating

couple talking while enjoying summer meal outside

On busy summer days, we all eat on the run more than at any other time of year. And sure, sometimes you just need to fuel up to keep going, but you can always dedicate a few moments to mindful eating.  These strategies will help you get started.

1. Take One Bite at a Time

Put only a single mouthful of food on your fork at a time and wait until you’ve swallowed it completely before taking another.

2. Thoroughly Chew Your Food

The first step in your body’s digestive process is breaking the food into pieces that your stomach can manage. Chewing also releases all the flavor components in the food. Instead of gulping down your food, chew it completely before you swallow it to get the full experience of it.

3. Focus on the Taste and the Aroma

While you’re chewing, tune your senses into the layers of flavor and the scents of the food. Humans are capable of tasting sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savory) flavors. A good meal will offer you a balance of those tastes. Give yourself a chance to enjoy them all.

5. Set Down Your Utensils

Between bites, put your fork or spoon down on the table. That will prevent you from rushing bite after bite into your mouth and allows you the chance to stop eating when you’re full rather than continuing automatically.

5. Talk to Others

Conversation around the table is not only a pleasant part of a meal, but it also helps you stay in the moment. Talking to others naturally slows you down and keeps you attentive rather than focused elsewhere.

6. Turn off Media

You already know what leads to distracted, unhealthy eating. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone draw your attention away from the food and encourage you to eat without thinking.

7. Know When You’re Full

The feeling of being full for many of us is a slight discomfort around the midsection when we finish a meal. But most experts will tell you that’s a sign that you’ve already eaten too much. When you practice conscious eating, you can learn to stop before that.

Believe it or not, your tastebuds can help. The first few bites of a food you love are so satisfying. But as you continue to eat, you’ll notice that it doesn’t taste as good anymore. That’s a sign that you’ve had enough.

8. Drink Up

Staying hydrated can be hard in summer’s heat, but hunger can often masquerade as thirst. If you’re feeling hungry before it’s time for a meal, drink a glass of water and wait 15 or 20 minutes to see if the hunger comes back. Even better, drinking water keeps your metabolism burning calories even when you are at rest.

Mindful Eating at Social Gatherings

A group of friends are sitting around an outdoor dining table, eating and drinking.

Every get-together can become a minefield that you can navigate successfully with a few basic principles of mindful eating.

1. Prepare Yourself

Offer to bring a dish or two yourself that you know fits into your healthy eating plan. Nutrisystem has many Flex meal recipes that are approved by our expert dietitians, so you’re sure to find one or more that fits the mood of the party.

2. Look First, Pick Second

When it’s time to eat at the party, take time to scan all the food choices so you know which ones you really want to try. This will prevent you from filling up your plate even before you get to your favorites.

3. Load Up on Healthy Options

Before you take any of the indulgences, start by serving yourself healthy foods such as fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as lean proteins like chicken breast, seafood and hummus.

4. Taste the Goodies

Chances are, there will be some high-calorie foods served at a party and it’s no fun to watch others enjoy them all while you refrain. Identify which of them you’d most like and put a few bites on your plate. Be sure to use your focus on conscious eating to truly savor the flavor of the foods you choose, and you’ll feel satisfied with your portion.

5. Nibble and Chat

As with meals at home, make the conversation a highlight of the meal. While you’re chatting, remember to take small bites, let your senses experience the food, chew thoroughly, and eat one bite or forkful at a time.

Incorporating Mindfulness into Your Summer Routine

grilled food on wooden board at a summer party

The summer months are a great time to make mindfulness a regular part of your life. These exercises can help you anytime and just about anywhere your day takes you.

Try Meditation

The practice of meditation has many health benefits beyond eating, including stress reduction and even helping to keep your blood pressure in balance. The most familiar approach to meditation is to sit in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing, inhaling and exhaling fully. This can be especially useful when you’re having a stressful day.

When you’re lying by the pool or on the beach, try a body scan meditation. To do it, lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Beginning with your toes, flex and release the muscles and focus your attention on how you feel. Continue with each part of your body as you move up to your head. Contract and relax each set of muscles, breathing out the tension in each body part.

Walking with Purpose

You can also walk while you practice mindfulness. A simple way to start is by finding a quiet place that gives you room to go about 20 paces. Walk slowly and deliberately, focusing on the sensations of lifting your feet, placing your feet down and shifting your weight forward as you go. Move as steadily as you can, finding a gently rhythm as you continue.

When you reach the end of the 20 paces, turn around and walk back with the same awareness. Just five to seven minutes of mindful walking can yield significant benefits. As you get accustomed to the practice, you can go further and longer, so long as you can maintain your intention.

Start with One Mindful Meal a Day

With all the activities and events going on in summer, it can be hard to find time for mindful eating. As much as possible, set aside at least one meal for quiet, conscious eating each day. That can be a snack, if not breakfast, lunch or dinner. Practicing mindful eating every day will help it become a habit for all your meals.

Keep a Food Journal

Keeping a food journal is useful when you’re trying to lose weight because it can show you when and how you stray from your healthy eating plan. It also reminds you of all the progress you’ve made. Journaling when you’re working on mindful eating also makes you aware of your choices. By taking note of where and when you ate, who you ate with, and what you were doing while you ate will give you insights into the circumstances that create the most mindful eating experience for you.

Mindful Eating While on Vacation

woman on vacation enjoying a meal by the sea in summer

Traveling and eating out brings you lots of new sensations and experiences. Mindfulness can help you to get the most from your travels while keeping you on track with your weight loss plan.

Trying new foods is one of the great pleasures of traveling to unfamiliar places and you don’t want to miss out. Just as you would at a party, check out all of the options available to you at any meal and put fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein on your plate first. Order a salad with dressing on the side or a bowl of vegetable soup to fill up on before you dig into other courses.

Take your time as you’re eating to fully taste and smell the food, especially when trying something new. Remember that hot sauce, salsa, herbs, spices and vinegar have almost no calories, so you can use as much of them as you want to add flavor to your meal.

Portions at most restaurants vastly exceed the right amounts for healthy eating. Before you take a bite, use your fork or knife to divide the portion in half. Eat only from half of the plate, making each bite count. Take home the other half and enjoy your delicious meal a second time.

Challenges to Mindful Eating and How to Overcome Them

Summer barbeque food

Mindful eating isn’t hard to do, but obstacles can get in the way. The most common is eating while distracted. Avoid eating while driving. Whenever possible, stop and eat. It’s safer for you and other people, and it allows you to enjoy your meal.

Likewise, avoid eating at your desk or workstation. Instead, move to a break room or even outside as you eat. Your brain can use the time away from your work and conscious eating will help clear your mind before you go back to work.

Turn off the TV and your electronic devices while you eat. When your attention is on what you’re looking at, you’re not aware of how much and fast you’re eating. This could cause you to consume too much and to choose unhealthy options.

Creating a Mindful Summer Eating Plan

Group of friends having a meal outdoors in summer

Ready to dive in this summer? Try these strategies to build a mindful eating habit this season.

  1. Your shopping list is the first step in your mindful summer eating plan. Load it up with lots of seasonal produce, which offers you a wide range of tastes and textures to appreciate as you’re eating. Include plenty of lean proteins, such as chicken breast and seafood, and SmartCarbs like whole grains. Steer clear of impulse buys, especially of sweets and other processed foods.
  2. Plan your meals for the week and prep them when you have time. This eliminates much of the stress of getting them to the table on a busy day. The more relaxed you are before you sit down, the easier it will be for you to be mindful as you’re eating.
  3. Try choosing foods that require your attention as you’re eating, such as cherries with stems and pits. The act of eating them keeps bringing your focus back to the food, which can remind you to be mindful as you consume it.
  4. No matter how busy you are, set aside at least five minutes each day to work on mindfulness. This can be first thing in the morning, before you go to bed at night, or whenever you have the chance.
  5. One of the most important principles of mindful eating is to let go of expectations and judgments. Rather than setting rigid rules for yourself and feeling bad about breaking them, mindful eating emphasizes the experience of eating over the outcome. Conscious eating increases your enjoyment of food and at the same time, gives you the power to know when you’ve had enough. Nutrisystem helps you to prepare for a lifetime of healthy eating and mindfulness is a powerful tool to help you get there.

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