All too often in modern day life we area eating on-the-go, working on the computer or eating on the sofa watching TV. Rarely are we paying full attention to the food on our plates and being engaged with the process of eating it. I know the feeling – all to often on a long busy shift as a junior doctor I find myself trying to eat some food as quickly as possible because it’s the only change I might get in the 12+ hour shift, trying to get as much in before the bleep goes off, which it inevitably does, further distracting from the eating process.
So, what actually is mindful eating? It’s when we give the eating process our full attention, using all our senses and engaging with our thoughts and emotions which arise. We appreciate the look, smell and taste of our food. It’s also important to do so in a non-judgemental manner. It tends to lead to a slower, more thoughtful eating style.
Not only will eating mindfully make the process more enjoyable, it has been suggested that mindful eating can help weight loss. Those who eat mindfully also tend to have increase sense of wellbeing and lower disordered eating patterns.
How can you tell if your habits are hindering mindful eating? Here are a few eating habits which aren’t conducive to mindful eating:
- Using your phones at meal times.
- Eating on-the-go, standing or on the sofa – from a table is best.
- Eating from food packets, not from crockery.
- Not taking time to eat.
- Eating guided by your emotions, not your hunger e.g. stress-eating.
- Eating whatever, whenever, just because it’s there – that cake in the office?!
- Not controlling your portions and over-eating, ignoring your body’s signals that you’re full.
This is just a small selection of ways you could be mindlessly eating. If you’re reading this and think you’re eating mindlessly, give mindful eating a go and see if you notice a change.
Eating a whole meal mindfully might at first seem a challenge. You can introduce yourself to the process, test it out with a small snack and gradually build up – a bit like if you’ve ever meditated, the first 5-minute sessions might have seemed forever, but you can teach yourself the process.
You could try eating an apple mindfully to start. Pick it up and acknowledge its colour and how it makes you feel. Are you hungry and wanting to eat it, or did you just pick it up because you’re bored? Bite into it – did you hear a satisfying crunch? Chew it for 20-30 seconds. Focus on your breathing if this helps. What does it taste like, sweet or slightly sour? What’s its texture, crunchy or soft? And then swallow. You shouldn’t be focusing on a to-do list, what’s happening on TV or scrolling through social media, just take the time to fully immerse yourself in the eating experience.
Trying out mindful eating in this way can help form mindless eating habits.
A key part of mindful eating is slowing down to enjoy and appreciate the experience.
Here are some tips, try out what works for you, there’s no need to try and start all of them at once!
- Am I actually hungry?
- Ask yourself if you actually feel hungry or just eating because the food is there, or you ‘always’ have a snack or food at this time. If you don’t know, wait 20-30 minutes and see how you feel. Are you thirsty? Sometimes you can feel hungry, but your body is thirsty, if you feel this might be the case have a glass of water and wait to see if this quenches your thirst and no longer feel hungry.
- The story of your food.
- Understand where your food came from can increase your appreciation for it, and maybe even change your food choices in the future. Is it home grown, from the local greengrocers or farmers’ market? If from a supermarket where is it from and how was it sourced?
- Slow down eating.
- You don’t need to keep up with those eating around you, I know I’ve struggled with this in the past when family members are eating faster than me and my subconscious wants to keep up. Actively slow down and eat at a pace you’re more comfortable with. Doing this you’re more likely to notice when your body is full. There are health benefits of eating until only 80% full and is something that’s often practised in the blue zones. Chew your food more, this helps starting the digestion process.
- No distractions.
- Eat at the dinner table, without technology. Personally, for me, meal times are a social activity. Some may advice you eat mindfully in silence, if this works for you great. Whilst the conversation is going on, ensure you take time to savour your food and focus on that too. If you’re dining as a family, you can share in this experience and see what others notice.
- Pay attention to your food.
- Not just on the first mouthful, but throughout the whole meal, really savour your food. Contemplate its texture, smell, flavours and colours. All to often we appreciate the first bite but then mindlessly eat the rest of the plate.
- Take time out to eat.
- Stop for a meal time. Sitting down and eating at a table rather than on-the-go or furiously typing at your desk will bring a much greater appreciation of your food and sense of wellbeing. It will more often than not help to increase your enjoyment of food too.
Here are some of my tips for mindful eating. Reconnecting with your food in this way can help rebuild a healthy relationship with what you eat and develop healthier eating habits. It can help also in bringing a sense of calm to your day.