Can you recall your last meal? Can you describe the flavors, tastes and textures of the food? If not, you may not be eating mindfully.

Can you recall your last meal? Can you describe the flavors, tastes and textures of the food? If not, you may not be eating mindfully.

We spend on average 2.5 hours a day eating, but more than half that time we are doing something else, too. Because we eat while working, driving, reading, watching television or scrolling on our phones, we are not fully aware of what we are eating. Growing research suggests that distractions while eating are linked to overeating, stress and anxiety.

Mindful eating is simply a way to focus on the present and pay attention to the foods you eat. This technique can help you gain control of your eating habits.

Mindful eating can:

Help you eat less. We eat more when distracted. Remembering what you had to eat reduces the desire to eat more later.

Cut down on cravings. Placing an emphasis and awareness of thoughts and emotions helps identify what your body is really craving. Often it is not food.

Benefit your body and gut. Slowing down the pace of your food intake helps trigger release of gut microbes that aid digestion. It also can reduce blood sugar spikes and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Following are some steps to get you started eating more mindfully.

1. Let your body catch up to your brain. The body sends its signal that it is full about 20 minutes after the brain. Slow down and learn to identify your body’s signals to eat the right amount. Simple ways to slow down might be to chew your food more, put your fork down between bites, and sitting down to eat.

2. Know your body’s hunger signals. Is your stomach growling? Do you feel light headed or out of energy? Learn to separate true hunger feelings from emotional signals to eat, such as boredom, stress or loneliness. Instead of eating when your mind tells you to, eat when you are hungry. But, don’t wait until you are ravenous. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry. If not, find ways to comfort your feelings without using food.

3. Develop a healthy eating environment. When we eat at random times or places, we tend to eat more. Plan a meal, sit at the table, plate your food and put away or turn off any distractions. Distractions make it much harder to listen to your body’s signals. Do you snack in the car? In front of the TV? While working? Identify where you have a habit of distracted eating and make a plan to break that habit.

4. Reject the diet mentality. Forget about restricted diets that give you the false hope of quick weight loss. Give yourself permission to eat. There are no good or bad foods, but how much you eat matters. Accept your genetic blueprint and stop being overly critical of your body.

5. Connect with your food. Consider how your food got to your plate. Appreciate all the people that were involved in bringing that meal to you. Pay attention to the color, texture, aroma and taste of your food. As you chew, try to identify all of the ingredients.

6. Respect your fullness. Stop eating when you are comfortably full. Start with smaller portions and only eat more if you are truly still hungry.

There is no right or wrong way to eat, but being more aware of what and when you eat can empower you to make healthier choices that will ultimately improve your health.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.