Why We Struggle With Intentional Eating
According to the CDC, the obesity prevalence in the U.S. from 2017 to 2018 was 42.4%. As a culture, portion sizes are much larger than those in other countries, and Americans are eating too many processed foods. Many Americans also lack a fitness and exercise regimen, a habit that is encouraged by most healthcare providers.
Why do Americans struggle with intentional eating? The answer carries some nuance, but the benefits of eating more intentionally and being cautious about what you put in your body are many.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of paying mindful attention to your food as you're eating. According to the National Institute of Health, “the intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience.”
Mindfulness is the practice wherein you stay intentional and completely aware, but non-judgmental at the same time. Where diets tend to focus on the “rules” of eating, mindful eating focuses on your intent. It is a process-driven practice, rather than outcome-based.
Mindful eating is also referred to as intentional eating or intuitive eating. It can be extremely helpful for managing your weight, keeping your brain and body functional, and keeping better track of your nutritional intake.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
There are many benefits to adopting mindful eating as a new health practice. It can help you get rid of any bad habits that you have associated with eating and assist you in establishing new, healthier eating habits.
Mindful eating can improve not only your overall health but your life as well. These are just a few of mindful eating's biggest benefits to your health and life:
- Helps prevent binge eating: By being aware of the food you are putting in your mouth at every second, you will be less likely to binge;
- Improves mindfulness and awareness in your overall life: Being mindful takes practice. Start by being mindful about the way you eat. Soon, your mindfulness will spill over into your everyday life;
- Helps manage weight loss: If you are struggling to maintain a certain weight, try adopting mindful eating habits;
- Keeps you full with less food: When you are not mindful about the way you eat, you may end up eating more than your body is asking you for. By being mindful, you can listen to your body and know when you are truly full;
- You will eat the foods that fuel your mind and body better: Once you start eating more mindfully, you will be more aware and cautious about the types of food that you put into your body.
How to Eat Mindfully
If you are not sure where to start, there are a few different techniques for eating mindfully. These strategies have proved helpful and successful for people who have been proactive about their mindful eating.
Some techniques will work better for some people than they will for others. Try to use the techniques that make the most sense to you and will benefit you the most.
- Create a more mindful grocery list: Creating a grocery list at all can be helpful in mindful eating. And by spending more time on your list and thoughtfully considering each item and how you will use it, you can start being mindful about the way you eat, too;
- Take your time: When we are hungry it can be very easy to eat quickly which can make our bodies feel more hungry even when we are full. Take your time with each meal by savoring it and giving it your full, undivided attention;
- Small portions: Sometimes, it helps people to eat more mindfully when they reduce their meal portions;
- Use all your senses: When you are cooking and eating, stay more attentive to your food by noticing the colors, the aromas, and the textures. If you did not cook the meal you could even try to identify the ingredients and spices as you eat;
- Don’t skip meals: Skipping meals can be bad for your overall health, and it can also hinder your mindfulness while eating if you are too hungry to focus.
The Cultural Influence on Eating Habits
In the United States, it is common for people to eat fast food or take out meals at least once per week if not more. In a 2012 Food & Health Survey, Americans said they felt like it was easier to do their taxes than to figure out healthy eating habits.
Americans tend to eat more packaged foods as well as foods that are high in sodium and cholesterol. Because of these cultural norms in America, it can be difficult to establish healthy eating habits.
Cultural Factors That Can Affect Your Eating Habits
The culture in the United States can affect your eating habits. These are just a few of the factors that can get in the way of mindful eating in America:
- Demographic factors: Your demographic (i.e., location, gender, age, etc.) can influence your eating habits, especially if you live in a secluded area. You may not have the same access to the same foods as those who live in urban areas;
- Comfort eating: As a culture, we encourage people to eat as a form of comfort when they feel sad or stressed;
- Corporate influence: Advertisers of large food corporations have the resources to influence Americans regardless of whether their products are healthy or not;
- Food swamps/food deserts: Sometimes, cities will have what we call “food swamps” or “food deserts” which can both be hindrances in adopting healthy eating habits. Food swamps are regions where there are more options for junk food (i.e., convenient stores, fast food, etc.) than healthy options. A food desert is an area where healthy foods are hard to access.
Common Challenges for People Who Want To Eat Mindfully
These cultural factors can create challenges for those who are trying to eat more mindfully. Some of the challenges include losing weight, getting the right nutrients, and finding the right food sources.
- Weight loss can be challenging for Americans who want to eat better but are used to a culture that promotes bad eating habits;
- Getting the right nutrients can also be a challenge because of the lack of nutrients in the processed food that we eat;
- Finding healthy food is not always easy when food swamps and food deserts are claiming areas of the country.
For people who are looking to eat more mindfully and adopt a healthier lifestyle, the best way to start is by figuring out your goals, whether those are improving your mood, reducing stress, losing weight, or living an overall healthier lifestyle. Identifying your health goals and practicing mindful eating daily will start you down the path of living a healthier lifestyle.