Try Eating This Way For One Week & See What Happens

When it comes to what and how you eat, I'm a big fan of you doing you. Eating based on other people's food rules is what gets us all into trouble, so if you feel your best eating vegetarian, or avoiding spicy food, or eating your breakfast standing up at the kitchen counter — great. I'm not going to tell you what to do. But, this week, I am going to offer you a challenge.

It's a challenge I accepted myself, the very first week I quit dieting and began intuitive eating. While it's utterly simple, it is by no means easy. (But, really, when has easy ever taken you anywhere good?) I still do my damndest to accept this challenge every day, because it's worth it. It's a true game changer, and one I think that literally every person who tries it will benefit from. That's a bold claim, I realize. But I don't make this promise lightly. There is no right way to eat, but this habit will never, ever steer you wrong.

The Challenge: One meal a day with no distractions.

The Timeline: One week.

The Fine Print: The definition of "distraction" shall include, but not be limited to, your phone, a book, music, podcasts, or the TV. And don't get sneaky with all that, "Um, I don't have cable. I just use Netflix and Hulu, so it's not actually TV, okay?" If there are people doing something on a screen for your entertainment, I don't care what kind of cable it's coming through. That's TV, so turn it off, buster. Distraction is any kind of outside stimulus; it's anything other than you and the food on your plate — including another person.

This practice is essentially Mindfulness For Dummies. Mindfulness sounds like one of those daunting, life-changing goals, where you have to go live on a mountain for a while in order to do it right. But the truth is, even applying it to a tiny slice of your day will radically change that part of your day, and there's a very real ripple effect into the rest of your life.

When you apply mindfulness to a meal, it will not only change that meal, but every other meal you eat. Here are some of the things that happen when you delete distractions from mealtime.
The Anti-Diet Project is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, sustainable fitness, and body positivity. You can follow Kelsey's journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too!). Curious about how it all got started? Check out the whole column, right here. Got your own story to tell? Send me a pitch at kelsey.miller@refinery29.com. If you just want to say "Hi," that's cool, too.
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Photographed by Alexia Anna Basile.
1. You taste more.

Think about the way you eat a chocolate chip cookie, fresh out of the oven. Think about how conscious you are of this being a pleasurable experience, and how alert your senses are — taking in the aroma, heat, and melty deliciousness.

Now think about how you eat candy at the movies: tossing the pieces into your mouth, unconsciously nibbling as you focus on the screen. It's good, but it's no cookie-fresh-from-the-oven experience. I don't know about you, but I don't usually think about stopping until the box is empty. It's not because I'm engaging it some disordered, binge behavior. It's just because I'm not paying attention.

Eating mindlessly is not a crime. I still love my Raisinets and popcorn combination at the movies. But because I'm in the habit of eating mindfully at other times, I now have that instinct in my back pocket, even when I'm watching Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant. It pops up every now and then to say, "Hey, are you still digging those Raisinets? Okay, cool. Holy shit, how is that bear still alive?! He shot him!"
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Photographed by Alexia Anna Basile.
2. Food becomes more satisfying.

Obvious, right? When you put a little effort into tasting and experiencing your food, you stand a far better chance of being satisfied than when you're just putting a sandwich into your body as fast as you can.

We don't hear a lot about the importance of getting satisfaction from food, but it's a vital part of having a healthy relationship — both from a mental and nutritional perspective. And satisfaction is one of those things you can't just add to a meal, like a teaspoon of chia seeds. You have to actually experience it.
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Photographed by Winnie Au.
3. You learn what you like and don't like.

Before I started this practice, I thought I hated lobster. I tried it once when I was six years old, and thought it was gross. From then on, I officially hated all shellfish. Long story short: I now love shellfish. Lobster is good! Who knew?! Not me, because I'd been hanging on to a food preference I made when I was six.

When you eat with distraction, it's so easy to miss the fact that you don't like what you're eating. At the same time, it prevents you from discovering new foods you enjoy. I could go on and on about how my food preferences changed when I began eating just one daily meal without distraction, but the bottom line is: don't let your entire life go by without having your own lobster revelation.
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Photographed by Maria Del Rio.
4. Your meals balance themselves.

The first thing people say when I tell them about intuitive eating is something along the lines of: "If I were allowed to eat whatever I wanted, I would just eat fries all day." I totally understand the fear, but no, you wouldn't. There are a lot of reasons why you wouldn't eat fries all day, but one of them is simply that when you're eating mindfully, your meals start to balance themselves.

It's not some mysterious magic at play, here. It's just that your body and brain work best when they're properly fueled. As you get into the habit of eating mindfully, you'll find that your cravings (which, spoiler, come from your body and brain) will point you toward balanced meals. Your common sense will help you out there, too. When you're not filling your brain with background noise, you'll be able to hear that little voice chime in to remind you that you feel better when you've had some greens in your day. And hey, wouldn't sautéed spinach go great with that salmon?
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
5. You discover your own "portion control."

I hate to use such an old-school diet term, with all its restrictive implications. So when I say portion control, I imagine a kind of control center in my body. That's where all my hunger and fullness instincts do their jobs — pushing the buttons that make me sauté the spinach and enjoy the Raisinets.

During my dieting days, I ignored those dudes and just ate whatever and whenever the diet told me to eat, completely cutting the connection with my own instincts. When I started the practice of undistracted eating, I finally started getting their signals again. Turns out, the guys in my control center are pretty good at helping me determine how much I'd like to eat, by saying, "More salmon, please," or "Heads up, you're starting to get full."

It doesn't mean I don't eat past the point of full or accidentally skip lunch sometimes. Life happens, and there's only so much the control center can control. But the point is, when I'm listening to them, I have all the information I need.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
6. You win a prize!

Well, not a literal prize. Sorry, that was mean. But while there is no gold medal for eating a meal a day without distraction, there is an undeniable benefit. If I haven't made a good enough case for the magic of mindful eating, then take the challenge. Try it for one week. What do you have to lose? More quality time with your phone?

Yes, it will be tricky sometimes, and deeply annoying. But, I'll bet you a box of Raisinets that you will find your relationship to food has changed for the better. I'll bet you another that you'll find this challenge more challenging than it sounds.

When it's hard, remember: Easy doesn't usually get you anywhere. At the very least, hard will get you somewhere new.
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