On the surface, it seems like planning and mindful eating don’t necessarily go together. When you eat mindfully, you’re paying attention to what your body is telling you in the moment, so how can you plan for that?
The key is to think about options. You don’t have to plan everything you’re going to eat, or when, but it can help to have a rough idea. Once you start paying attention to your eating patterns, you’ll likely notice that certain amounts and types of foods fill you up more than others, and carry you longer. Knowing that helps you prepare.
And since I just got back from a conference, I thought I’d share what I did to adjust my eating while there. Hopefully it will spark some ideas for you.
But before I get to that, I want to explain why focusing on this is important to me personally.
When I think back to earlier times, when I wasn’t mindful and didn’t prepare, things didn’t go so well. In those days, I simply ate when I could and whatever was provided, without considering if it met my needs. This meant I alternated between being ravenous and overly full, and both results left me more focused on my eating than on the conference. It didn’t make for a very good experience.
With the steps I took this time, though, I never got too hungry, or too stuffed, and I had the energy to really focus, learn, and get to know the other attendees. I like that much better!
Now onto what I did.
Identify when you can eat
Sometimes you can eat whenever you want, but you probably also have some constraints. Especially if you’re at work or a conference, or your meal times are shared with others.
So it helps to take stock ahead of time. In my case, I reviewed the conference schedule the week before and noticed that all the meals were at least an hour later than I’m used to, sometimes more:
Breakfast started at 7, when I generally eat at 5:45 or 6
Lunch was at 12:30 or 12:45, but by the time you order and get food, it’s 10-20 minutes later, and I usually eat around 11 or 11:30
Dinner was at 6, again plus order time, or in one case at 7:30, instead of around 5 (yes, I know I’m an early person)
But it also helps to remember that scheduled meals aren’t the only times you’re allowed to eat (usually). For instance, the conference had some breaks. They also didn’t have any rules saying you couldn’t eat during a session, or that you’d have to share with everyone if you brought a snack.
Plan to adjust eating as necessary
Once you know when you might be eating, you can start to adjust accordingly. That is, if you know enough about your eating patterns to begin with.
In my case, I know I don’t usually do well if I try to delay my breakfast. (This is why I hate fasting blood tests.) I also know that if I eat more than my usual, I often feel sluggish, which doesn’t help.
So I wouldn’t be eating lunch for up to an hour and a half later than usual. I didn’t want to eat a lot more for breakfast. And I didn’t want to be starving by lunchtime.
My solution? Eat slightly less for breakfast, then plan to have a snack around 10, when we had a break. I brought a protein bar and pear, which would carry me through until lunch. Plus, if I ended up having my snack during a session (which I did once), it wouldn’t be so loud and crunchy as to be disruptive. (Carrot sticks and hummus, for instance, would have been much more awkward.)
Then, because lunch was later than usual, I did okay with waiting for dinner until around 6.
Of course, we had that one night when dinner wasn’t until 7:30. Definitely a stretch. But it was also a buffet and networking event I’d already paid for, so I wanted to eat something at it.
So I made another modification. At 6, I had some nuts and an apple – enough to hold me, but not so much to completely fill me up. And it worked.
Oh, and I also always had an extra protein bar with me in case of emergencies. Not that I live on protein bars most of the time, but I do find them handy for travel.
Consider what will be available
Speaking of eating choices, if you’re going to eat out, it can help to look at nearby restaurants so you know what your options are. That will help you make better decisions in the moment that fit in your budget and provide the kinds of foods you like to eat.
You can also see if you have the option to prepare any food, or have at least one meal in your room rather than eating out all the time. For example, I decided to stay in an Airbnb near the conference hotel, so I could have a kitchen.
I also found a local grocery store, and I arrived with enough time to get some supplies there. Even better, the store was within walking distance, so it was a good way to get out, stretch my legs, and see some fun local color.
This allowed me to have breakfast and dinner in the rented condo, and eat lunch out. That was a good balance, both for my wallet and my eating. Plus, it meant I could plan to have some fruit with breakfast and snacks. Not because I “should” eat fruit but because I really like it, and it’s not something you can get usually at restaurants unless it’s in a pie, or a super-expensive fruit cup.
Applying this to everyday meals
I’m able to make these kinds of adjustments because I experiment with them in my everyday life. I often have meetings scheduled around noon, so I sometimes adjust my planned lunchtime depending on my schedule. If I have a meeting at 11, I’ll take the morning snack approach so I can eat lunch later. If my meeting is at noon, I’ll plan to eat earlier. And similar for dinner.
I realize this may sound complicated, but it does become part of your routine once you’ve done it enough. The key is to have some idea of what your day looks like, prepare for that, and then also have a back-up option in case things change.
If you have any of your own strategies for doing this, I’d love to hear them. And either way, I hope this has given you some ideas for how you can plan for mindful eating.