Mindful Eating and Social Situations

Social events and eating are often linked, and these events can bring up anxiety and stress. Some people avoid them for fear of going off a particular diet or eating too much of the wrong kinds of food. It’s easy to go into mindless eating when we are focused on others and end up feeling overfull. With a few reminders and guidelines you can learn how to increase the nourishment that social connections offer without the pre-event fear, anxiety, or post-event stomach upset or bloat. You can learn how to plan ahead, stay mindful, and enjoy both the food and the company.

Practice in a Variety of Social Situations. Practice the Mindful Check-In. Gently hold your intention and goals in awareness to help navigate your choices. For special occasions, holidays, and celebrations you may want to just have fun, celebrate, and not worry about your choices. Yet there still are ways to enjoy these special events and make choices that enable you to feel good and nourished in your body. For example:

  • Go to these events no more than moderately hungry; then you can enjoy the food without being blindsided by your stomach. Eat a healthful snack beforehand, so you won’t arrive starving and can make better choices.
  • See which foods really call to you. Try new tastes and dishes.
  • Practice tuning in to your hunger and satiety levels and make your choices  accordingly.
  • When you’ve had enough, physically move away from the food tables.
  • Hold a partially filled cup or plate as you mingle, if that helps you feel more comfortable. And remember, you don’t have to finish the food on your plate just because it’s there.

Stay Mindful While Engaged in Conversation. Daily social eating is a fact of life for most of us. It is possible to enjoy your food, stay attuned, and be social at virtually the same time. Stay Mindful While Engaged in Conversation. Daily social eating is a fact of life for most of us. It is possible to enjoy your food, stay attuned, and be social at virtually the same time.

  • When you eat with others at a sit-down meal or in social situations (meetings, work, holidays, events, celebrations, etc.), practice being present to the conversation.
  • Shift your attention to your body and the experience of eating. Notice how good the food tastes, how hungry or satisfied you may be. Let your sensory experience, your chewing and swallowing bring you back fully to eating. Keep your focus here for at least a few seconds.
  • Then shift back to the social milieu. Focus on the conversation, mindfully listen, and contribute. Repeat this throughout the meal. Remember the seven tips.

With practice, you’ll become more skilled at remembering to tune in and shift your attention to your body and your eating without letting go of the social conversations and your awareness of the other person(s) occurring in the moment. Having both a formal meditation practice and mindful eating practice can lead to a kind of meta-awareness at times, where you stay aware of and present to conversation and your eating experience at the same time.

Mindful Restaurant Eating. Make this a positive experience for your body. It’s easy to eat too much at restaurants or order the kinds of food that do not support your health and well-being. Whether you eat out frequently or as a special treat, these tips can help guide you into more mindful and healthful ordering and eating while still enjoying the whole experience.

  • Check out menus ahead of time when possible to assess your options.
  • Consider forgoing or sharing “extras”: appetizers, breads or chips, drinks,  desserts. These are easy to eat mindlessly and can leave you unnecessarily full and uncomfortable at the end of a meal. Mindfully savor the ones you do choose.
  • Stick with the main meal or even share a dish, depending upon the portion sizes and your hunger levels.
  • Ask for sauces and dressings on the side so you control how much is served to your preference.
  • Take home what you don’t finish once you are satisfied, so it doesn’t stay on the table and tempt you.
  • Practice the tools of mindful social engagement and mindful eating. Shift your attention away from your conversation periodically to your experience of eating. Savor and enjoy with all your senses. Check into your levels of hunger and fullness and stop when satisfied. Practice meta-awareness.

Excerpted from “Well Nourished.” Text copyright © 2017 Andrea Lieberstein. Available from Fair Winds Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

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Andrea Lieberstein, MPH, RDN, RYT, is a mindfulness-based dietitian nutritionist, meditation teacher, mindful eating expert, speaker, retreat leader, teacher trainer, and author of Well Nourished.

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