Mindfulness is a word often thrown around a lot today. It’s a practice based on Zen Buddhism which is based on having a clear understanding of being in the present moment, calmly and without judgement. Therefore, mindful eating encourages awareness of our eating experiences. It’s about bringing your attention to the present moment when eating, which in turn will help reduce unsatisfying and habitual eating behaviours.
What is mindless eating?
Have you ever been watching TV and finished a packet of chips and said to yourself “Oh, that was the last bite? Bugger!” this is mindless eating; where you’re not paying attention to the food you’re eating. It’s often accompanied by eating with distractions such as the TV, computer, phone, iPad, walking, eating in the car, etc. Here are some examples:
- Eating your lunch at your desk as you continue to work
- Finishing your meal/snack without realising it was your last bite
- Eating out of boredom
- Having to eat food on-the-go and/or in a rush
- Eating until you feel physically uncomfortable or even sick
- Not eating until you’re starving, this often results in finishing meals/snacks really quickly, which commonly leads to being uncomfortably full
- Someone offers you food and you say yes without considering whether you actually feel like it or not
- Confusing hunger and thirst
- Eating based on your emotions, trying to numb or avoid feelings
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
There are many benefits of eating mindfully; it’s overall objective is to pay attention to the food that you’re eating, in each moment, and without judgement. It helps to highlight your hunger and fullness satiety cues. Mindful eating removes diet rules and draws attention away from the different elements of food such as carbohydrates, protein and fats, and focuses on enjoying each and every bite. Other benefits include:
- Bringing awareness to your hunger and fullness cues
- Choosing foods which are satisfying and nourishing to your body
- Identifying triggers of mindless eating e.g. eating to numb/avoid emotions
- Being aware of positive benefits which cooking and eating can bring
- Removing judgement and criticism of eating particular/all food
- Recognising the difference between hungry and non-hungry eating
How can I start eating mindfully?
There are multiple strategies in which you can begin to eat more mindfully, and it’s about finding the right techniques for you. Some useful techniques to begin are:
- Asking yourself a few basic questions such as “Am I hungry or thirsty? What do I really feel like?”
- Taking a few deep breaths before eating to bring yourself to the present
- Having a nice and peaceful eating area set up i.e. On a clear table without the TV/phone
- Having utensils set out and placing them down in between each mouthful
- Eating slowly and bringing your attention to the smell of the food before you eat it, then notice the texture, taste, temperature and appearance of each bite
- Checking in with your hunger signals every few minutes which will help you stop eating before you feel full. Wait 10-20 minutes before continuing to eat if you still feel hungry. In time, this will show you how much food you need in order to become full
- Another method that is often found useful is recording your mindful eating journey in a notebook or simply on your phone. Writing out your feelings will bring further attention to your emotions around food and will help you become a mindful eater.
Begin your mindful eating journey slowly, maybe pick one snack that you have every day like a muesli bar and really pay attention to it. What does the muesli bar smell like; is it sweet or savory? Can you smell each ingredient? Can you taste if the nuts in your bar are roasted? How does the crunchy nut taste in the same mouthful as a juicy, squishy burst of flavour from a piece of dried fruit? Pretend you’re a MasterChef judge and rate the muesli bar taste out of 10 with every bite? Do you find that number reduces by the time you reach the end of the bar? Mindful eating is a process, and isn’t necessarily easy but with practice and guidance, it will become second nature.
Felix & Sage Psychology