Without knowing it my first experience with true mindful eating came one Food Technology class when I was in high school (shout out to Miss Cooke, such a legend!). Dissecting a Mars Bar is how this particular class was sold and it entailed slowly, consciously unwrapping the mars bar and using a scalpel to remove each layer of firm chocolate, sticky caramel and gooey nougat. Paying attention to all details of textures, aromas, sights, flavours and mouth-feel of the chocolate.
Being completely present when you eat and paying close attention to how it makes you feel when you eat it, is mindful eating in a nutshell. It’s incredible how this can change our perception of a food… it’s amazing how sweet a Mars Bars can taste when you dissect one with a scalpel!!
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is commonly thought to be the same as meditation but actually is an activity that helps to cultivate mindfulness. Both practices can be beneficial in so many respects (see our previous post Meditation is Fucking Hard) and I strongly believe everyone can benefit by including more mindfulness into their lives.
In general mindfulness can be useful to recognise thoughts, feelings and emotions (both positive and negative) and also physical sensations in our body. When we become attuned to the subtleties our body is very good at letting us know how it’s feeling and also what it needs, whether it be stretching your legs, a snack or a nap in the afternoon!
Getting in touch with your biological cues is where mindful eating can be so powerful. Mindful eating is actually used in some nutrition research to help heal disordered eating and eating disorders but can also be beneficial for anxiety and depression.
Useful questions to ask yourself when choosing what to eat and while eating can be:
*Do I really want this?*
*Is there something else that would satisfy me better right now?*
*Will this taste better if I eat it later?*
*Am I really enjoying this?*
By regularly getting in the habit of taking a pause when choosing foods and during eating you can bring more awareness to your eating experience… treat it as an opportunity to learn about your taste preferences and your body. Mindful eating also involves:
- Listening to and responding to physical signs of hunger
- Learning to determine other types of hunger (e.g. emotional hunger or externally-cued hunger) and trying out other ways to cope with them
- Listening to and responding to physical signs of fullness
- Eating slowly
- Eating without distractions
- Using all your senses when eating – tuning into touch, taste, sight, sound and smells
- Choosing and appreciating foods that you love that nourish your body and soul
- Appreciating your body for allowing you to savour and fully experience the joy of eating
Although this list might sound fairly straight forward there are subtleties to all of them and as we are exciting beings whose lives, bodies and mindsets change every day sometimes mindful eating will be easy and some days damn impossible.
What if I don’t have the time…?
We’re all guilty of telling ourselves we don’t have the time to do good things for our body, but mindfulness should not be another thing to beat yourself up about for not doing. To introduce more mindfulness into your life you don’t have to take hours over each meal and lavishly undress each banana you eat.
Distractions are everywhere these days, whether it be a physical distraction like a phone, the TV, working and multi-tasking while we eat. Although it might not always be possible, whenever we can putting away distractions and using meals or snacks as ‘me-time’ to focus on yourself and your food can help you introduce more mindful eating into everyday life.
Thinking about ways that we can make small changes to our everyday lives in order to live more presently can be liberating and enlightening. Creating a small pause when choosing what to eat and when determining how a food makes you feel can help make eating a conscious experience rather than a habitually triggered, automatic one. You’re guaranteed to get more pleasure from your food and might even learn something new about yourself along the way.
Try this TEDx guided meditation to help introduce the concept of mindful eating, try it with a friend even and see how your experiences differ.
For details of how I can support you on your journey to a healthier relationship with food through personalised online nutrition consultations check out my website Non-Diet Nutrition.
“If food habits are learned, they can also be relearned … even now you can readjust your preferences.” Bee Wilson in This Is Not a Diet Book
For the keen readers and evidence-checkers amongst you:
Food Psych (Podcast) 2017. How to Break Free from Body Shame (and Learn Mindful eating) with Fiona Sutherland. Available at: https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/4/how-to-break-free-from-body-shame-with-fiona-sutherland
mindful by Christopher Willard (2016). 6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating. Available at: https://www.mindful.org/6-ways-practice-mindful-eating/
Robin Mallery (2015). Chocolate mindfulness exercise. TEDxEvansville. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSpMGTzZwsU&t=188s
Sandra Aaamodt (2013). Why dieting doesn’t usually work. TEDGlobal. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/sandra_aamodt_why_dieting_doesn_t_usually_work
Schaefer et al. (2014). A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues. DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.024
The Guardian (2014). Mindful eating? How to get more from your meals. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/23/mindful-eating-how-to-get-more-from-your-meals