The clock struck midnight on December 31st, 2019 and you have made a promise to yourself to improve your nutrition in 2020. Things are going really well, then you are faced with the inevitable – eating out. Navigating eating out while trying to eat better can be a challenge. Food is an important part of our lives. In fact, it is life. It gives us energy to take on our day, live an active life but it also contributes to our social and emotional needs. Food is woven into the social aspects of our life. A common trap people fall into is thinking that eating out can’t work into having a healthy balanced diet. Rather than avoiding these social situations or throwing up your hands and eating all the food, let’s talk about how eating mindfully can help you successfully navigate eating out.
Before we dive into the tips to eating out mindfully, let’s define what we mean by “mindful eating”. With our busy lifestyle, eating can be an afterthought. Something we grab quickly while running between activities. Then the times we do sit down for a meal, how often is it distraction free? I’ll just check my emails quickly which leads to Facebook notifications. Suddenly your food is all gone and you barely register eating anything. Mindful eating is about developing awareness of your experiences, physical cues, and feelings about food.
When thinking about nutrition, most people think it’s just about the food. The most powerful tool you have for making and sticking to healthy choices is your mindset. Before you go, decide what is really important to you. Is it having a glass of wine? Great, choose that. Is the pasta made fresh daily? Awesome, choose that. Is it both wine and pasta? Perfect! Enjoy. Decide what matters most to you and then truly enjoy it.
It’s important to note that removing language around food being good or bad is foundational. There is no food that is good or bad. Food is just food. It’s neutral. It’s like your couch. Your shirt. Your table. Completely neutral. This also goes for your choices; you are not a good or bad person based on your choices. Labelling food with morality leads to shame and guilt. Your self-worth is not determined by your food choices. Mindful eating encourages changing the way you think about food and removing negative emotions by replacing them with awareness, feelings of self-control and positive emotions.
Now that you have taken the time to decide what matters most to you, it’s time to really enjoy it. For a lot of people, this means slowing down. So often we enjoy the taste of the food so much that we inhale it like it’s our job. Between bites put your fork down. Chew your food. Take a breath between bites. Focus on the taste, texture and the smell. Slow down so you can truly enjoy your food.
Eating out is meant to be a social experience; food is the means to gather. Focus on connecting with those around you when eating out. Allow the conversation to wander. Share stories. Laugh together. Although you have gathered around food, focus on the experience connecting with those around you. This includes removing as many distractions as possible. Put away your phone so you can connect to yourself, your food and your surroundings. This will allow you to leave the meal feeling satisfied physically but also emotionally.
Eat Until You Are 80% Full
Part of eating mindfully involves checking in with your body and what it’s telling you. Now that you have slowed down and are present, this will allow you to listen to your body’s cues to tell you that it’s satisfied. Stopping when you are 80% full is just barely satisfied. You are no longer hungry but not “full”. If after waiting for a bit, you feel like you are still hungry, go ahead and have a bit more.
One Last Thought
Although food is what gives us life, it’s more than that. It is a ribbon that runs through our social and emotional needs as humans. It is also a celebration of connection and culture. Mindful eating allows us to remove morality from food, to connect to ourselves and make choices that are best for our health and overall wellness.