Mindful eating can change your life.
This is a bold claim, I know; stick with me.
Mindfulness has come to the forefront of a holistic approach to healthy living in recent years. Mindfulness is the idea that, by becoming fully present in the moment, in your body, and in the sensory experience of what is happening all around you, you can bring peace and alignment to your physical, mental and emotional states.
Bringing this powerful intention to your relationship with food and diet can deliver life-altering benefits to your general wellbeing.
Convinced yet? Fair enough: let’s dig a bit deeper.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Good point – what is the meaning of mindful eating exactly? Broadly speaking, mindful eating extends the concept of mindfulness to encompass what food you eat and how you eat it.
Practising mindful eating techniques involve:
- choosing healthy food and being fully present when you eat
- concentrating on your food and not eating, for example, while working at your desk or watching TV
- thinking about your meal or snack as you eat it
- contemplating and savouring taste and texture
- paying close attention to your body as you eat, recognising the signs when you’re full
- considering the origins of your food and choosing what you eat with ethical considerations in mind (such as selecting fairly traded coffee or organic meat).
The benefits of mindful eating are significant: from aiding weight loss to ameliorating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Making this simple change to your daily life can deliver a profound difference to your health.
Getting Started with Mindful Eating
Now that you’ve decided to incorporate a mindful eating practice into your life, how do you go about getting started?
It’s surprisingly easy!
Mindful eating is a way of life rather than a diet; there are no specific foods to buy, no recipes to follow by the letter or calories to count. Instead, mindful eating means considering your food choices carefully and eating what you choose with contemplation, intention and presence. But what do these things actually mean?
Okay: to get started, perhaps choose a snack. Think about your choice. What will nourish your body, what will healthily satisfy your hunger? By taking a moment to properly consider your options and what your body is telling you it requires, you are much more likely to reach for a handful of cashew nuts (for example) or a piece of fruit than a biscuit. It’s not that there is no place for a biscuit in mindful eating – it’s just that you’re more likely to select the healthier option if you are engaging in the practice of bringing full intention to your diet.
What is an Example of Mindful Eating?
Now that you (hopefully) have your nutritious snack (if you’ve gone for the biscuit anyway, it’s okay; we’re just getting the hang of things here, no-one’s judging), take a moment to contemplate this food; where it’s come from, the journey it’s taken to be here, in your hand.
Remove any distractions: your job is to entirely concentrate on what you’re eating.
As you begin to eat your snack, really feel the texture of the food as you chew.
Let the flavours develop: notice them, think about how many different flavours you can identify.
Listen closely to your body as it responds to your eating. Pay attention when it tells you it has had enough, and stop eating, even if you have food left.
Lastly, allow yourself to feel gratitude for the food and how it has sustained your body.
And that’s it – your new practice of mindful eating has begun!
But mindful eating isn’t about denying yourself yummy treats. To help you start your new routine, have a go at The Chocolate Meditation, from the book ‘Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. This blissful meditation is an excellent introduction to mindful eating… and also features chocolate! Mindful eating is now sounding more appealing, am I right? I hear you. 😉
Mindless Eating Vs Mindful Eating
To help you get a firmer handle on mindful eating, it’s helpful to look at its opposite number: mindless eating.
- begins when you eat, not out of hunger but out of habit, or because you are bored, or upset, or lonely. As a result, mindless eating tends to lead you to choose foods that soothe you emotionally rather than are what your bodies crave nutritionally
- tends to result in you eating alone, snacking at random times, and while doing something else. Maybe you eat a sandwich with one hand while checking work emails with the other, or indulge in a night-time snack in front of the telly after a hard day
- you don’t consider the food’s origin or the steps needed in its journey to get to your plate
- results in you ignoring your body’s ‘full up’ signals so that you go on eating long after your brain has told you to stop.
In summary, mindless eating means you are not fully respecting your bodies or the food you put into them.
Now let’s compare this to the practice of mindful eating. As a mindful eater, you:
- will respond to your body’s signals, eating the food that your body needs when is hungry and stopping the moment it is full
- are more likely to make healthy, ethical choices
- will eat with family or friends at set times
- will eat slowly and savour every mouthful
- are in control of your eating and reaps the health rewards.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
The mindful eating benefits are manifold.
Eating with the firm intention of paying absolute attention to the nourishment of the body can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. That’s because you focus and still the mind and improve the general well-being that this engenders. By providing the body with a nutritious diet, the mind is nourished too: as symptoms of fatigue and bloatedness dissipate, energy levels rise, bringing increased capacity for exercise, improving physical health. The benefits to physical and mental health bounce and rebound off each other, delivering ever more significant advantages to wellbeing.
Mindful eating weight loss is a clear benefit to this new way of interacting with food. By paying attention to your meals, and what they incorporate, you are more likely to choose food that will be good for your body, regardless of what your emotional cravings tell you. Mindful eating’s tenet of recognising when your body is full also lends itself to gaining (or maintaining) a healthy weight.
Eating this way has even been linked to helping manage the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes – now that’s playing a powerful mind game!
The Psychology of Our Plates
You can use mindful eating to explore your relationship with food to establish a healthier partnership between yourself and what you’re putting on your plate. Mindful eating can help remove unhelpful links between your feelings and your diets, and establish, instead, a positive relationship with food that promotes wellbeing.
By being mindful of how your emotions drive what you eat and how much you eat, you can begin to see patterns. Perhaps during times of stress, you are more likely to reach for food even when you’re not hungry; perhaps sadness pre-empts the temptation to open the ice cream, or you realise that anxiety is linked to eating beyond feelings of fullness. By recognising these links with compassion, you are best placed to make different choices.
Suppose you know that a trigger is present, perhaps, before a meal. In that case, you could try some deep breathing or meditation exercises to eliminate, as far as possible, the emotional state that could lead to overeating. Once you’ve done this, contemplate your food and listen to your body’s needs before you take the first mouthful. By giving your close and undivided attention to the changing feelings of your physical self, you will be better able to recognise, and act on, feelings of fullness when your body reports them to you. This, in turn, can stave off health problems such as obesity or high blood pressure linked to diet. Eating slowly promotes better digestion, too – all of these things combined make for a healthier and more enjoyable way of managing the food you put on your plates.
Mindful Eating Tips and Tricks
So now we’ve had a look at the theory and the practice, it’s worth thinking about how you can best incorporate mindful eating into your daily life… and I’ll show you some useful hacks for those super busy days when time is of the essence.
The easiest way to ensure that you continue to eat mindfully is to listen to your body when it tells you it’s hungry. When we’re busy, it’s easy to ignore this hunger, continuing with work or chores…but this almost inevitably leads to making bad food choices later: quickie junk food or a rushed handful of crisps. So, consider keeping some healthier options to hand – berries and mixed seeds, for example, or carrot sticks and hummus – so that when your body puts up its hunger flag, you can reach for a nutritious snack, rather than ignoring your hunger until it drives you to the nearest, quickest, and possibly unhealthiest choice.
It may not be possible to have all your meals at a set time and with others, but you can ensure that you give yourself a specific window to eat lunch. During this time, step away from your laptop, find as quiet a spot as possible – maybe just looking out of a window – and give your full attention to your food.
Using smaller plates has a powerful effect on our perceptions of how much we’re eating; numerous experiments have shown that people using larger plates will serve, and often eat, larger portions. So, an effective hack to help you eat more mindfully is simply to switch out your plates for ones of a smaller size. Serving out portions, too, rather than grabbing straight from the packet or container will help you stay aware of what you’re putting into your body.
Lastly, a nifty little trick to encourage your new practice is to put your utensils down between mouthfuls. This helps you savour each bite of food before rushing to the next, slowing down your eating and giving you time to mindfully appreciate your meal.
Mindful Eating for Life
The points we’ve covered here are just the jump-off for adopting mindful eating into your life; the practice can be adapted to work around you and your life. Mindful eating doesn’t need to be adhered to at every mealtime; even making an intention to eat mindfully for a set number of times a week will bring significant health benefits.
As you bring your presence and awareness to what’s on your plate and become more attuned to your body’s messages, you may find that you can discern how different food affects your body differently: perhaps avocadoes pep you up in the morning while pasta makes you sleepy. Intensely appreciating the relationship between your body and what you choose to nourish it with can be highly enlightening.
By considering where your food has come from, you may find yourself making different choices when shopping for groceries.
My personal journey with mindful eating has led me to cut down the amount of meat I eat every week. The money saved, combined with fostering greater awareness of where my food has come from, has resulted in me buying only organic meat. There is a smaller portion on my plate, but I savour it carefully and, by eating mindfully, feel just as full as when I previously consumed larger portions.
Mindfulness in action!