Mindful eating is an essential practice for people looking to improve their health and diet. Often, consumption of processed foods and foods high in sugar leads to increased cravings. Eating mindfully can equip you with the necessary skills to better understand your body’s natural signals and rhythms to combat unhealthy dietary urges.
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What foods do you crave?
Acknowledging cravings is an important first step that can help you control your eating habits, so try to become aware of what foods you crave. Keeping a food journal can help you better understand your eating patterns and impulses. Once you understand what they are, the techniques outlined below can help curb your cravings.
The first step: becoming aware
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, discovered that mindful eating (and reducing stress) can help curb cravings and prevent weight gain, even without dieting. Their study suggests that recognizing sensations of hunger and fullness can help curb cravings by improving satisfaction with food. The following tips are easy to implement and can help you quiet your cravings and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
Practice mindful eating
Mindfulness requires focusing on the present moment and noticing your body’s natural rhythms, along with your thoughts and feelings. Eating slowly and taking the time to appreciate your food can even serve as a form of meditation. By not rushing through meals, you reduce your chances of overeating and give your body the time necessary to properly and effectively digest your food. Practicing mindful eating can also help you better distinguish between real hunger and food cravings driven by emotion.
Researchers from Ohio State University discovered that eating mindfully can help adults with type 2 diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels and weight. Their study found that participants who were trained to notice their hunger and fullness cues, eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied, lost the same amount of weight, on average — between 3 to 6 pounds over three months — as those following nutrition-based food guidelines. They also significantly lowered their HbA1c levels (a measure of glucose control over the previous two to three months).
Along similar lines, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association discussed the benefits of regular yoga practice on mindful eating. Researchers found that the regular use of yoga for meditation and stress relief can be helpful in increasing body awareness. Head researcher Alan Kristal, DrPH, suggested, “…that mindfulness—a skill learned either directly or indirectly through yoga — could affect eating behavior.” The study argued that yoga can play a significant role in long-term weight loss or weight maintenance.
Plan your meals
Another important part of mindful eating is planning weekly meals and limiting your consumption of fast food or premade store-bought meals. By planning your meals, it is possible to reduce reliance on unhealthy foods and to limit your chances of making spontaneous, craving-driven purchases. Preparing your meals in advance can limit temptations. Ensure often-craved foods are unavailable in your home or other areas you frequent. Instead, focus on filling your kitchen with produce, whole grains and lean proteins, and avoid prepackaged center aisle products found at grocery stores.
Researchers from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, found that planning meals as a form of mindful eating can help to lower the risks of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The researchers theorized that the excess screen time and high stress levels of modern life can easily lead individuals to mindlessly eat, but eating with attention and awareness can help people make smarter nutrition choices and improve cardiovascular risk factors such as fasting blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
Drink more water
Making a point to drink water throughout the day can greatly improve your diet and overall health. Often, we can confuse the body’s signals of thirst for those of hunger. When what feel like hunger pangs emerge, try to drink a cup of water to reduce your cravings and appetite. A study published by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that the majority of participants reduced their calorie consumption by increasing their intake of water by just 1%. The research, conducted between 2005 and 2012 in 18,300 American adults, showed that increases of daily water intake by 1 to 3 cups significantly helped to lower caloric intake and reduce the consumption of saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium.
Improve your sleep quality
Many studies suggest that sleep can impact weight management. Sleep significantly affects the release of hormones and the maintenance of hormone levels in the body, and insufficient sleep can negatively affect the release of essential hormones — especially those that control and contribute to weight gain and cravings.
Researchers from the University of Chicago conducted several studies looking at the impact of poor and insufficient sleep on food cravings and appetite control. The experiments found that poor sleep negatively impacts our natural circadian rhythms, disrupting the endocrine system and restricting the body’s ability to regulate levels of leptin (a hormone that helps manage hunger), which can directly affect eating habits. Moreover, poor sleep can increase insulin resistance in the body, potentially leading to higher blood glucose levels. Those who are sleep deprived also often make poor food choices, yielding to cravings and overeating.
The final word
It may not be easy, but in a world where countless distractions are competing for your attention, a bit of mindfulness can be just what the doctor ordered to curb your cravings and improve your diet. Take a deep breath, and get started today.