Instead of mindlessly eating for 10 minutes, use that free time to rein in that bad habit, instead.
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Maybe it started with a bowl of ice cream on the couch while watching the premiere of Orange Is the New Black. It happened again the next night, then the next. Before you know it, you've developed a bad habit: You're diving into a bowl of ice cream (popcorn, candy—whatever guilty pleasure) almost every night. It's not even because you're craving dessert or lacking willpower, but it's just because you're a creature of habit—and research backs that up.
By the time you recognize you should probably stop (or at least cut back), your jeans are getting tight—but it feels impossible to stop. You're not alone in this struggle: Our taste buds have actually been genetically engineered to crave high-calorie, high-fat foods—and they can be totally addicting.
Good news: A new addition to the popular meditation app, Headspace, might be able to help. Headspace (from $7.99/month) just launched a 10-day Mindful Eating meditation series; each 10- or 15-minute session was developed in collaboration with behavioral scientists, psychologists, and nutrition experts to help you apply mindfulness concepts to eating. The series isn't necessarily about what you're eating, but why and how.
"Mindful eating is about reframing the eating experience so we're more aware of our choices and [can] hopefully form a new mindfulness habit," says Sarah Romotsky, a registered dietitian and head of health and science strategy for Headspace. (Psst—here's more on what mindful eating really means.)
The benefits of mindfulness meditation—where you train your mind to stay in the present—can include reducing anxiety, improving focus, and increasing compassion. But how, exactly, does meditation encourage more mindful eating?
"If you think about the choices you make with food, there is often a psychological factor at play for why you're eating, and meditation can help address these," says Romotsky.
In general, research shows that it takes about 66 days to develop a habit. So in a little more than two months, you can adopt a habit like mindful eating that can add major value to your life. To do so, consider two important factors, says Romotsky: a context cue and repetition. A context cue is a trigger that reminds you to perform the action you want—in this case, deciding what to have for dinner. This means you will try to practice mindful eating at every dinner.
"With enough repetition," says Romotsky, "this new habit of mindful eating will eventually become automatic and will rely less and less on external triggers," such as a late night at the office or a tempting invitation to hit the town with friends.
It's not just about food and meal choice, though: Mindful eating also has a lot to do with the way you're putting each bite in your mouth. Are you aware of the food's flavors, textures, and smells? Or are you more focused on the text you're sending or the episode of The Office in front of you?
The practice of mindful eating can make it sound like you need to reserve tons of luxurious time for every meal—but that's not necessarily the case. Two simple ways to be mindful: 1) Always sit down while you eat (just not at your desk) and 2) avoid multitasking, even if it's just a snack. Sitting down and only eating helps limit your distractions, but—most importantly—lets you focus on every delicious bite. "It may feel weird at first to eat without doing anything else, but it helps us understand our emotional connection to food," says Romotsky.
Yes, mindful eating may help you lose weight—but it's also about finding the joy in food and becoming more in tune with your own hunger and satiety. Talk about freedom.