04/24/2015 12:58 EDT | Updated 06/24/2015 05:59 EDT

4 Steps to Developing Mindful Eating Skills

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So many people struggle with eating when they are not hungry. This in turn can trigger feelings of guilt and shame especially if you are trying to lose weight. Understanding whether you are eating due to hunger or other reasons begins with being mindful before taking the first bite.

Before you take a bite of food, take a minute to listen to your body. Ask yourself: "am I truly hungry?" The task at hand is not to resist the urge to eat or be a "good person" for not eating, but to simply listen or check in with your body.

It is important that you do this in a non-judgmental way. If you are scared of how you might feel if you are not hungry but want to eat anyways, you may eat out of rebellion or anger. Allowing yourself the option to eat anyways and congratulate yourself on taking the time to listen to your body's hunger and fullness levels will help you avoid feeling guilty.

Mindful eating can seem a bit abstract so practicing mindful eating activities can make it seem more tangible. Here are a few to try:

Step One: Step away from the food. Go to a quiet place free from the smells and influence of food. This could be in your car before heading into the house or in the bathroom before eating dinner. You can close your eyes or focus on an object while evaluating your physical signs of hunger.

Some people find it useful to write down a list of physical signs of hunger- tummy rumbling, gnawing feeling, etc. Refer to that list while you are trying to judge if you are hungry.

Step Two: Once you've determined if you are actually hungry, try to figure out how hungry you are. A lot? a little? Hunger is not all or nothing- there is a scale or progression that will help determine how much food you need. You can use a scale from 1-5 or 1-10 to help you evaluate it.

Step Three: Once you know how hungry you really are, decide how much food you need to eat to fill the gap BEFORE starting to eat. You can always decide to eat more or less once you are eating, but letting your hunger decide how much you need versus the food can help you be more mindful.

If you feel confident in listening to your hunger signals and determining how hungry you are.

There is a fourth step: Once you have eaten about half the plate of food, take a mini break. Reconnect with your body to reevaluate your hunger levels. Check in to see how much more you need to eat to feel satisfied.

Practicing listening to your hunger cues and evaluating your level of hunger or fullness is a big concept to master. It is not that difficult with practice and is INVALUABLE for weight management.

Tackling the triggers that influence you to eat when not actually hungry is another exercise to increase mindfulness. This one is a bit more difficult to do on your own and can stir up some emotions. Triggers can be in your environment (donuts in the break room), feelings (like stress or sadness) even old habits (snacking while watching TV). But that's for another post!


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