Have you ever looked down at an empty plate and wondered where your delicious meal of veggie stir-fried rice went? Or maybe you’ve sat down to eat dinner with a friend and found yourself eating as much as they did (which you normally wouldn’t do). How many times have you stopped after being lost in thought and found the potato chip bag empty without realizing that you ate them all? This lack of attention to what and how much we eat is mindless eating. I’m going to help you flip that around and share with you a mindful eating exercise that can help you avoid overeating, make healthier food choices, and truly appreciate and enjoy the food that nourishes your body.
WHAT IS MINDFUL EATING?
Mindful eating is paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment. It is an approach to eating that focuses on an individual’s sensual awareness and their experience of the food.
This mindful eating exercise has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein. In fact, the purpose is not to lose weight, although it is highly possible that those who adopt this style of eating will eventually drop some pounds. Instead, the intention is to help you savor the moment and the food and encourage your full presence for the eating experience.
A BRIEF LOOK AT MINDFULNESS
To understand this mindful eating exercise, we must first unpack the concept of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness wasn’t embraced by Western health practitioners until the mid-20th century.
As psychologists and academics warmed up to the evidence-based arguments for mindfulness and meditation in managing pain and mental health, they began integrating Buddhist philosophies and practices into their approach.
One such academic is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) in the 1970s to treat patients with chronic pain. Kabat-Zinn is now considered one of the leading voices in the field of mindfulness as it relates to the medical profession. He has managed to successfully integrate Buddhist and yogic teachings with scientific findings.
In his book “Wherever You Go There You Are”, Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” In other words, mindfulness means to become aware of the here and now.
BENEFITS OF MINDFUL EATING
Many of us were told as children that we couldn't leave the table until we'd finished our dinner. As a result, we learned how to eat mindlessly for the sake of finishing what’s on the plate. This mindful eating exercise can help reconnect our minds with our bodies. In addition, it helps you examine and change your relationship with food.
By practicing mindfulness during meals, we’re more likely to tune into how our body is actually experiencing the meal and whether we’ve had enough, regardless of whether the plate is clean or not. As a result, you derive greater pleasure from the food you eat as you learn to slow down and more fully appreciate it.
Mindful eating can also help you better discern between emotional hunger and physical hunger. As a result, you will be able to tell when you’re eating out of boredom, or when you’re choosing certain foods for comfort rather than nourishment.
Many people who have tried mindful eating have found that they begin to actually enjoy eating, rather than relating to it as a chore or a quick fix. They’ve also found that they make healthier choices about what they eat by focusing on how each type of food made them feel after eating it.
Practicing mindfulness while eating is better for your physical health as you improve your digestion by eating slower. Not only that, but it also has a positive impact on stress management, mental health, and your overall enjoyment of day-to-day life.
A MINDFUL EATING EXERCISE TO TRY
STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR FOOD AND ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
Choose whatever food you like. For example, it could be a grape, a slice of apple, or a bite of rice. Place it in a fancy little bowl and keep it close.
Reduce distractions as much as possible like turning off the TV and putting your cellphone on mute.
STEP 2: RELAX YOUR BODY
Sit down on a comfortable chair. Next, uncross your legs and place your hands on your lap. You might want to close your eyes to help you connect with your breath.
Bring attention to your feet on the ground. Take a deep breath in through your nose and lift your shoulders up at the same time.
Roll your shoulders back and exhale through your mouth, opening up your chest. Imagine a string on the top of your head pulling your spine straight as if your head was reaching up toward the ceiling.
Bring attention to your jaw and release any tension in your face. If there are any little micro-movements that would help you to fully relax, feel free to take a little stretch and then come back to your comfortable seated position.
STEP 3: ASSESS YOURSELF AND THE FOOD
Notice any sensations that are going on in your body. Do you feel hungry, full, or thirsty? Is the environment warm or cool? Bring attention to what’s going on in you right now.
Next, pick up the food. Gradually open your eyes if they’re closed and take a look at this food as if you were experiencing it for the first time.
Have the curiosity of a child. What is the texture and color of the food? Think for a moment about where the food came from.
Perhaps it was growing on a tree and you can picture the farmer and everything it went through to arrive there in your hand. If it feels right, take a moment of gratitude, appreciating this food as a gift and a blessing.
What is the temperature of the food when you touch it? Does it have a smell? Bring it to your nose and see if you recognize the aroma. Perhaps it triggers memories.
Take a deep breath and feel the joy of being present in the moment.
STEP 4: CHEW SLOWLY AND THOROUGHLY
Slowly, and with awareness, bring the food to your mouth. Take a small bite without chewing or swallowing.
Just notice the food in your mouth and pay attention to the taste and texture. Take another deep breath as you hold the food in your mouth.
Ever so slowly and with great care, begin chewing the food in your mouth. Notice the sounds of your own chewing.
Continue to breathe, relax and enjoy the experience of chewing. Notice the flavor of the food. You may want to count your chews. Think about how many times you normally chew a mouthful of food.
You could experiment with counting 10 chews, 20, or even 30. Chew as many times as you like and only when you are ready, swallow the food.
You may want to bring a hand over your belly to keep connecting to your breath.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How do I start practicing mindful eating?
You can start practicing mindful eating by slowing down and exploring your senses as you eat. For your next meal, set aside some time when you will be undisturbed, with no other distractions for about 30 minutes. Pick a food or dish that will be delicious and satisfying to you.
Sit down at a table in your home (preferable in your dining room or kitchen) and eat without distractions of any kind (even the distraction of other people). Notice any time your mind wanders away from the experience of chewing, tasting, and savoring and bring it back to the present.
What are 3 mindful eating habits?
1. Linger and savor. Try not to let your spoon or fork become a shovel. Take a pause as you pick up your food; stop for a moment to appreciate the spoonful before putting it in your mouth.
2. Bring back the wandering mind. It’s natural for our minds to wander off while eating. Use the taste and the look of the food as an anchor to bring you back to the present.
3. Listen to your stomach. It takes a moment for your body to let you know that you’ve become full and satisfied. If you slow down even more as the meal progresses, there’s a better chance you’ll know when it’s had enough. You don't have to clear the plate; keep leftovers for another time.
What is an example of mindful eating?
One example of mindful eating is eating only to satisfy physical hunger instead of eating to fill an emotional void (caused by stress, loneliness, sadness, or boredom). Another example of mindful eating is listening to your body’s signals and eating only until you’re full, instead of eating until all the food is gone while ignoring your body’s signals of fullness.
I hope you enjoyed learning about mindful eating and hopefully, you’ll start to be more present while you eat and more conscious about what you consume. I’ve got a fun recipe for you to try out for your first mindful eating exercise - a yummy kale salad that is full of crunch from crisp red cabbage and radishes, studded with toasted pumpkin seeds, and tossed in a refreshing citrus vinaigrette. Enjoy!