It rarely looks like this in real life, but perfection is often what keeps us from not even trying. Planning ahead definitely doesn’t have to look photogenic, nor does it even have to mean that it’s all coming out of your own kitchen.
Meal planning ensures your needs are met. You can still use other mindfulness exercises like listening to hunger/fullness cues and using your senses while you eat, etc. Planning ahead is a time, money, and stress saver.
Here are a few of my mindful eating principles that can help you with meal prep and planning:
1. Eat when you are hungry.
- Avoid skipping meals and get on a regular eating schedule to help get your hunger signals back if they have been lost due to chronic dieting. If you know your hunger signals, follow them, even if it’s not the “right” time to eat. Meal prep meets your needs in this way so you aren’t going hungry—the meals are available for you when you need them.
- At the very least for your meal planning, write out where each meal will come from, even if it’s from Sweetgreen or Chipotle and not your own kitchen. Having that plan can relieve so much stress when you’re not panicking about what you’re going to eat when you’re already hungry.
2. Make intentional decisions.
- Having your basic need met can make it easier to distinguish what’s physical or emotional hunger. When an emotional craving comes on, ask yourself what you’re really feeling, how you’d like to feel, and what you can do about it instead. How else can you soothe that emotion? If it’s food, it’s food. Make an intentional decision to soothe with food rather than going for it on autopilot and feeling guilty later.
- Think about the food you’re craving before you eat it. How will it make you feel? Do you really want it? If yes, eat it and move on.
3. Progress, not perfection.
- It’s what you do most of the time that matters. One meal isn’t going to “ruin everything” like we tend to think, so if you didn’t stick to your meal plan, it’s OKAY. Sometimes the meal plan you come up with is still a little too restrictive, it’s trial and error with how much will truly satisfy you.
- Don’t get caught up in staying “on track”. The sustainable track allows for twists and turns.
- The food industry engineers food to be as addictive as possible. Release yourself of the guilt if you have trouble with certain foods, we’re hardwired for it. Try allowing yourself permission to eat it rather than resisting it. Sometimes releasing that resistance is all we need to break the hold it has on us.
4. Pay attention to your food.
- Use all your senses when you cook or eat and try to eliminate distractions. This isn’t always realistic to do, but try it when you can. This helps stretch out the experience so you’re more satisfied and you can better hear your body’s signals. Plus, if you taste while you cook, you’ll end up with a more delicious meal rather than an accidentally unseasoned lunch.
- If you have kids, try using this exercise with them to help them think about food more mindfully, too. Ask what the food smells, tastes, looks, feels like, etc. Focus on the food together and create an experience out of it.
5. Incorporate non-food mindfulness practices.
- Meditation and breath work are helpful for approaching the rest of your life more mindfully. If you find meditation hard, that’s why it’s called a practice! The key is bringing your attention back to your breath when you notice it wandering. No matter how many times.
- Breathing deeply stimulates the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and releases the hormone that triggers your sense of fullness. Body signals are easier to hear when you’re relaxed. So take your time when you eat and keep breathing!
What are your favorite tips?