In our modern society, everything moves fast, and so, we’ve adapted our habits to move fast alongside it. While it can be beneficial in the workplace, it’s problematic when it comes to eating. You see, eating is now something you do quickly and mindlessly, and oftentimes, your attention is actually on your phone, your television or your computer. The issue is that it takes your body about 20 minutes to know that it’s full, and most of us will probably wolf down our food in much less time.
It’s not just about the speed at which we eat, it’s what we’re eating too! Fast foods and snacks make it easy to eat something cheaply and quickly, but have you ever stopped to think about how these foods make you feel or how they affect your mood and energy?
There’s two main problems for most of us - how we eat, emotionally and mindlessly, and what we eat, junk foods. These patterns build overtime. You eat to socialize, to relieve stress, to satisfy a craving or simply because it gives you something to do while you watch tv or surf the web. It’s anything but easy to reverse these patterns. There is a technique though, that can help you reconnect with your physical and emotional sensations towards food, its called Mindful Eating. It has been shown to cause weight loss, reduce binge eating and help you feel better. Now that’s something worth exploring.
Mindful Eating is based on the Zen Buddhism concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Simply put, it means purposely paying attention to the present moment without any judgement or criticism. The practice of mindfulness has helped countless people live more intentionally, and develop skills necessary to deal with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, disease, sleeping disorders, eating disorders and various food-related behaviors. It works because it helps you recognize and cope with emotional and physical sensations. For that to happen though, the mind must be fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing and to what’s going on around you, but we all know that’s easier said than done. Often our minds race and we get caught up in thoughts about past events or worry about the future, so we become depressed or anxious. Mindfulness is the tool to bring you back to the present moment and calm your mind, it is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
It’s a super power that everyone has innately, but you have to know how to use it. You can cultivate mindfulness through a number of different forms of meditation, short pauses throughout the day to help you calm your mind and refocus, and through the combination of meditation and other activities like sports, yoga or even eating.
Mindful Eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating, whenever or wherever you eat. It helps you become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating. Mindful Eating leads to a greater awareness of the why and the how you eat, and helps you develop a positive relationship with food by encouraging a more holistic point of view. A view in which you can appreciate and savor every meal you eat and can better understand what foods nourish you and what foods improve your wellness.
When you apply the practice of mindfulness to eating, you use a kind and gentle approach because you focus on the process instead of the outcome. You bring your full attention and awareness to the table and focus on appreciating the experience of food. It isn’t necessarily about changing the food you eat; it’s on changing your thinking around food. You choose what and how much to consume. It is no coincidence though, that through a mindful approach, people will often chose to eat less, savor eating more, and select foods with desirable health and wellness benefits.
Mindful Eating, to me, is about giving your full attention to your food and to yourself. You engage your five senses, and start listening to your body’s physical cues. You, in turn, learn a lot about your patterns and emotions towards food, which frees you to make better choices. Do you eat because you’re hungry or because you’re stressed? It’s a way of discovering your habits and bringing awareness to them. When you’re more aware, your mind is calmer, and when your mind is calmer, you’re less likely to be troubled or stressed. You then are less likely to eat in an emotional way because you can control your response instead of acting without thought. With awareness also comes clarity, so that you are better able to see your patterns. When you’re calm and lucid, you feel more satisfaction about the way you eat. And if you’re satisfied, calm and lucid, you won’t feel the need to judge yourself or be critical of all your meals and choices.
So... How Do You Do It
Firstly, incorporating Mindful Eating into your life may take a series of small adjustments to the way you approach your food and meals. It generally begins with the first thought you have about food and it ends with the last bite. Here are some steps you can take to start your practice as recommended by Dr. Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh in their book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life .
Start with your groceries. Think about the nutritional value of each item on your list, will it provide vitamins and minerals or is it full of processed carbs and sugars? Focus on the produce and meat sections, and try to avoid the center aisles which are heavy in processed foods. Allow yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
Come to the table with an appetite but not when extremely hungry. Skipping meals will lead to excessive hunger so you may be more concerned about relieving your hunger instead of enjoying the food you’re eating.
Start with a small portion. It will be easier to enjoy and appreciate your food if there is less of it. It will also make it easier to figure out when you’re actually full and sated. Hint: you can always get more.
Appreciate your food. Take a moment before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the people you're enjoying it with. When you pause to consider all of the people involved in the meal that has arrived on your plate, from the loved ones who prepared it, to those who stocked the shelves, to those who planted and harvested the raw ingredients, to those who supported them, it is hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected.
Bring all your sense to the meal. Be attentive to color, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare and eat them. As you chew your food, try to identify all the different tastes and ingredients, and notice the texture. You will then learn to use all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
Take small bites. Smaller bites will allow you to taste your food better. Put down your fork between bites. This will also help you acknowledge responses to food, likes or dislikes, but try to do so without judgement.
Chew Thoroughly. Chew your food 20 to 40 times and you may be surprised at all the different flavors that are released.
Eat Slowly. Don’t rush your meals. Let you body catch up to your brain and tell you when it’s full. Slowing down is one of the best ways we can get our mind and body to communicate what we really need for nutrition. It will help you become more aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Additionally, ChipMonk has some recommendations for you to further tune into your body while you eat. Be sure to try these at least a couple of times a week:
Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your phone to fully focus on your meal. Multitasking and eating is a recipe for not being able to listen deeply to our body’s needs and wants.
Eat in silence. You’ll be more in tune with your food this way.
Focus on how the food makes you feel, immediately after and hours after the meal. Including your feelings and figure. This will help you figure out which foods benefit your body and which foods slow you down and harm you.
Ask yourself why you're eating, am I actually hungry and is it healthy? Often we listen first to our minds, but like many mindfulness practices, we might discover more wisdom by tuning into our bodies first. Rather than listening to emotional signals, which can be anything from sadness to boredom, listen to what your body is saying. Is your stomach growling, are you light headed or is your energy low? Learn to identify the differences between emotional and physical urges and understand your motivations.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Here are some of the many benefits that a Mindful Eating practice can bring you:
Learning to distinguish between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating.
Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
Eating to maintain overall health and well-being.
Noticing the effects food has on your feelings and figure.
Appreciating your food.
Reconnecting to innate wisdom about hunger and satiety.
It offers the possibility of freeing yourself from reactive patterns around food and eating.
Nourishes not only the body but the heart.
Empowers you to make healthier choices, unlike dieting, which can lead to feelings of deprivation.
Acknowledgment that there is no right or wrong way to eat but varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food.
Accepting that your eating experiences are unique.
Awareness of how you can make choices that support health and well being.