Mindful Eating: What, why and how to get started
In a time-strapped hectic world like ours, many have taken an interest in mindfulness to help them relieve stress, invite more peace into their lives and even enhance focus and performance. One of the reasons
In a time-strapped hectic world like ours, many have taken an interest in mindfulness to help them relieve stress, invite more peace into their lives and even enhance focus and performance. One of the reasons why mindfulness is gaining traction might be its accessibility. Unlike some traditional forms of meditation, you don’t need to find a quiet corner and devote lots of time to do it. In fact, with informal practices like mindful eating, you can literally practice mindfulness on the go, anywhere, any time. With regular practice, you can become so adept at doing it that any object, both external and internal, can become a ready tool for practicing mindfulness.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you in the moment. For example, right this moment, you can bring your attention to the surface that you are sitting or standing on. What colour is it? Are there any designs on it? Notice how hard or soft it is. Notice that part of your body, whether it is your buttock or feet, that is in contact with that surface. Close your eyes and spend a couple of moments focusing on that part of your body. Viola! You have just experienced a short mindfulness practice. It is that easy.
Do not underestimate the effect of this simple exercise though. In stillness and simplicity, insights often arise. Giving your full attention to any object or activity helps you engage with it in a deeper, more meaningful way. In mindful eating, you’re present and aware to the whole experience of eating. You slow down the entire process and deliberately pay attention to what is happening both inside yourself –thoughts and emotions – and outside yourself, in your environment as you eat.
Why You Should Practice Mindful Eating?
Once seen as a mere subset of mindfulness, mindful eating is now becoming an established practice in its own right. While the origins of mindful eating trace back to Buddhist tradition, there are now many centers and practices around the world that offer secular mindful eating classes as a tool to alleviate disordered ways of eating or to simply re-establish a joyful and healthy relationship with food.
Having said that, it is important to emphasize that mindful eating is not a diet, nor does it replace therapy for eating disorders. While some people develop an interest in mindful eating with excess weight or food addiction as a starting point, mindful eating can benefit anyone.
Diets typically involve deprivation, and a vicious cycle of yoyo-dieting often lead to physical weight gain, not to mention an ever-increasing sense of shame and guilt. Mindful eating, by contrast, is about eating the foods you want and truly enjoying them. It does not have a fixed duration nor an end-goal. It is meant to be cultivated as an ongoing practice of awareness and observation—without criticism or judgment. Many practitioners in fact report that the more they practice mindfulness, the more they develop a sense of compassion for themselves and others.
Reconnecting with Yourself & Others
By removing distractions like TV, work or your mobile phone, and turning your attention to stimuli like the colors, smells, flavors, temperature and textures of your food, mindful eating helps to reconnect you with your physical body. By engaging all your senses, you derive more pleasure from your food and quite often, people who eat in such a conscious manner in fact end up eating less.
By observing internal thoughts, you start to pick up repetitive thought patterns and emotions that may lead to certain cravings and food choices. You are better able to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional hunger, and meet your needs with the appropriate form of nourishment, which may not necessarily be food. You are also more in touch with your body’s fullness signal and can eat to a point of being satisfied without overstuffing yourself. Ultimately, instead of allowing your feelings to rule your food choices mindlessly, you start to naturally control portions, choose healthy options and avoid emotional eating.
It is also said that our essential hunger is not for food, but for connection with others. When this is missing from our lives, we feel isolated, perhaps alone and vulnerable. One benefit of mindfulness is to help us become more aware. When we are mindful while eating, food itself can provide us with vivid awareness of our interconnectedness with all beings. When looking deeply into a plate of food or even a cup of tea, we become conscious and grateful for all the people and efforts that were involved in bringing each of the ingredients to us. We no longer feel so alone. This is another way that mindful eating prevents us from using food as a way to fill our emotional emptiness and heart hunger.
When you tune in to your body’s real needs and start improving your eating habits, it will in turn have positive effects on your overall health and wellbeing.
Ready to give mindful eating a try? Here are some ways to help you get started:
– Treat mealtime as an opportunity for connection. Remove distractions and focus on the experience of eating. Rather than multi-tasking, just eat when you are eating and fully savour every bite.
– Eat slowly and engage all your senses – sight, sounds, smells, taste, touch.
– Before you eat and throughout the meal, check in with yourself: How hungry am I?
– In between bites, put down your fork, take a few breaths and ask yourself: Am I satisfied? Do I need more?
– As you eat, try to visualize the entire process of how that meal got onto the table – from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the person who prepared the food.
If you are new to mindfulness, start slow and build up your practice gradually. You can begin by eating one meal a day or week using one of the suggestions above. Remember, there is no need to over-commit. Mindful eating is not a fad diet or a quick-fix, but rather a simple and gentle way to re-establish a healthy and joyful relationship with food and eating.