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Savor the Pleasures and Perks of Mindful Cooking and Eating

Being conscious of what you eat starts long before you take your first bite, and that can make it easier to lose or maintain weight.

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Quick: Can you describe the juicy goodness of biting into a ripe, red cherry tomato? How about the satisfying sizzle of searing a piece of wild salmon? Or the fresh citrus fragrance released from a lemon’s zest? If you’re making your meals on autopilot, paying little attention to your ingredients or seasoning, then you’re not just missing out on important cues like when you’re hungry and when you’re full. You’re also missing out on the joys of mindful eating and a simple way to manage your weight.

Mindful eating starts long before you sit down to eat and before you take your first bite. Just as with the practice of mindfulness, which means awareness without judgment, it involves being fully present throughout the process and engaging all of your senses as you plan, prepare and enjoy your meal. Studies also show that mindful eating not only helps with weight loss, but also may address eating disorders such as binging. Some benefits of mindful eating include:

  • Saving money by shopping with more intention and less impulse
  • Making cooking more enjoyable, like vibing to — or finding calm in — the rhythm and sounds of chopping, sautéing and mixing
  • Fully appreciating your food: the color, the aroma, the texture and the flavor
  • Getting your portions right, because you’re more aware of how much is on your plate

On the other hand, “mindless” eating can be triggered by things like stress or a desire for comfort or company (you know, while watching TV or zoning out on social media), and make it harder to lose or maintain a healthy weight. But by being more aware of your food, you can make healthier, more conscious choices, and turn up the volume on the joy that food brings.

One way to help you practice mindful eating is to think HALT. Before you reach for that snack or throw those same old ingredients together, ask yourself, am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? 

Are you hungry? When you graze all day, your body may never get a chance to tell you that it needs fuel. Mindfulness includes asking what else you could be experiencing. Could you simply be thirsty? Sometimes a glass of water will be enough to satisfy you at that moment.

Are you angry? You’ve probably heard of emotional eating. Anger can drive us to eat to stuff it down. Food may seem like a great escape, but instead, own that you’re angry and be open to expressing and addressing how you feel. 

Are you lonely? Food may feel like your best friend when you’re lonely. Try channeling your energy outward by being of service to others, whether it’s volunteering in your community or supporting a friend or neighbor. Studies have shown that volunteering can counterbalance depression and lift your mood.

Are you tired? Often the first thing we do when we’re tired is to try to get a boost from calorie-dense snacks and energy drinks, which provide only temporary satisfaction while spiking your blood sugar. Instead, take a walk, do a few minutes of energizing breath work or maybe get some sleep.

Other ways to practice mindful eating

Shopping: Notice textures and colors; try new herbs to intensify flavors. Go with recipes in mind and steer clear of impulse buys.

Prepping and cooking: Whether it’s dicing mixing or blending, notice rhythm, aromas, colors and shapes.

Plating: How your food is plated can make you feel good about what you’re eating. Be mindful of colors and positioning foods just so. Take a picture if you want to capture your creativity!

It can be easy, especially since most of us are eating at home more often these days, to think of cooking as more of a chore or to eat the same thing over and over. But if you shift your perspective to practice mindful eating, you may find yourself enjoying your food in a whole new way — from prep to plate — and gaining control of your weight.