What is mindful eating and why you should be practicing it
We've all been there: eaten our dinner in a rush, the whole time eyes on televisions, computers, and smartphones and then wondered two minutes later where it all went and how it actually tasted. We sometimes feel the temptation to fill plates with a little too much food, or perhaps just not pay quite enough attention to the process of nourishing our bodies.
Food can be a very emotive issue for many, and in a place of recovery and healing such as this, it’s useful to stay present with the sometimes conflicted feelings we have about food, and to be mindful of the possible pull to replace one type of addiction with another, such as over eating or comfort eating.
Mindful eating is maintaining an in-the-moment awareness of the food and drink you put into your body, observing rather than judging how the food makes you feel and the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction, and fullness.
A large number of studies have demonstrated that mindfulness-based activities can provide real benefits. Mindful eating can help in identifying unhealthy behaviour patterns around food and also treat such conditions, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and various food-related behaviours.
Mindful eating is, for many of us, a way to better enjoy food and life. It puts the focus on the present moment, allowing you to slow down and take some time to savour the flavours and experience of eating. So let's get into it!
Mindful approaches and strategies to deal with cravings
Our key tips for practicing mindful eating involves:
Pacing ourselves while eating - slowly and without distraction.
It takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realise you’re full. If you eat too fast
, the fullness signal may not arrive until you have already eaten too much. This is very common in binge eating. Eliminate distractions such as phones and focus on
enjoying your meal as well as your own company, or that of those around you
. By eating mindfully, you restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.
- Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full.
By increasing your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues, you are able to distinguish between emotional and true, physical hunger.
By knowing your triggers, you can create a space between them and your response, giving you the time and freedom to choose how to react.
- Engaging your senses by noticing colours, smells, sounds, textures, and flavours and how you feel after before, during and after your meal.
Ask yourself, "How am I feeling?" Then follow up with, "If I am feeling this way and I eat this food, how will it help me feel better? How will I feel after it?" When you're not actually savouring the taste or texture of the food and not paying attention to why you're eating, you lose appreciation for it and end up simply eating it out of a misplaced habit of ‘needing comfort’.
- Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food - set yourself a realistic goal.
“Today I will have just 3 squares of dark chocolate (instead of a whole bar) if I feel some emotion or craving.” For if we were to ban ourselves from eating chocolate altogether, it’s highly likely we’d fail in this attempt and set up an unhelpful cycle of self aggression that leads to further addictive strategies to ease our discomfort.
We can also check in with our values to help reinforce skillful behaviour. What matters to you? Is it important to have a healthy body, or to manage your weight? Would you like to be more active? Will unconscious and possibly unhealthy eating habits move your life forward in the right direction for you? Really taking the time to embrace your values can make the difference between applying restraint with portion sizes and or succumbing to greedy urges. By changing the way you think about food, the negative feelings that may be associated with eating are replaced with awareness, improved self-control, and positive emotions.
- Being grateful while eating - appreciating your food.
Eating mindfully can also involve thinking about the journey everything on your plate took to get there – from where and how it grew, to the person who prepared it. Thoughts of gratitude and appreciation can add even more enjoyment to the experience of eating.
Everything starts by becoming aware of the cravings we have and purifying our body of this confusing chemistry. It is about reprogramming the conditioning that keeps the body and mind blinded to what they truly need: a healthy lifestyle.