Mindful eating is based on using all your senses every time you put food into your body, and by listening to your body’s signals attentively regarding hunger and fullness. In other words, be here, right at your dinner table thinking mindfully about what is in front of you, not off over there wondering what you have to do at work tomorrow.

Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness signs is at the core of mindful eating. Physical hunger comes on gradually, but emotional hunger is usually sudden. Ever felt like you need a huge bowl of pasta after a hard day at work? Take a step back and think again, and about what other options would be equally satisfying and also more nutritious. Also, ask yourself what you are hungry for. If you feel like you need a specific food, but aren’t hungry then this is your first clue you simply want to satisfy a craving. Many people will also confuse hunger with thirst, so next time you feel like you are starving have a glass of cool water first, wait 10 minutes, then see how you feel. In general, stay as hydrated as much as possible throughout the day to help with this.

Fast food and eating fast are two things we are guilty of as a generation. We are always on the go, always in a hurry, and we almost always eat too quickly. Our body usually doesn’t have time to process the food we are giving it. It takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to send signals to our brain that it has had enough food. If we eat slowly and take breaks in between bites we can become more aware of these signals and know when enough is enough. A simple and pleasant way to help with this is to always share your meal with someone. Even if you’re at work, step away from your desk and sit with a colleague who you can have a conversation with. If you’re chatting while eating it will slow down the whole process and allow your stomach to register how full it is. Remember, you should be eating until you are no longer hungry, not until you are full.

There are two main principles regarding mindful eating, 1. eating with intention and 2. attention. Everything you put into your body should be with the intention of caring for yourself. One of the main signs of an unhealthy relationship with food is eating to punish yourself or to drown your sorrows. Secondly, eating with attention and being fully aware of food and its effects on your body is hugely important. Even while you are indulging, you should be aware of your physical and emotional reactions to food. Feeling guilty after a bar of chocolate is not what mindful eating is about, instead it is about enjoying the moment and living in it, and realizing that one bar of chocolate won’t kill you, just like one bowl of salad won’t instantly improve your health.

Do yourself a favor and before you start your next meal think about every aspect of it: When and why am I eating? What am I eating? How much will I eat? Where will I use up the energy I am getting from this food? And always remember, ‘Eat to live, don’t live to eat’.

Donia Hilal is a certified nutritionist with a degree in Nutrition from King’s College London. Her work focuses on women’s health in the Middle East, wellness, weight loss, and optimal pre- and post-natal nutrition. Passionate about real food and evidence based nutrition advice, Donia welcomes and enjoys guiding clients throughout every stage of their journey towards a healthier, happier life.