How many times a day does food affect your life? Wondering what you’re going to make for dinner, fretting over whether or not you’re making a healthy food choice, or using food as an emotional crutch.
Food dominates many people’s lives, and for some, it can cause stress and anxiety. With the fast pace of life and a society filled with diet culture, no wonder we’re all obsessed with food in one way or another.
Mindful eating looks to improve your relationship with food so you can listen to your body rather than the manipulative thoughts in your brain.
What is mindfulness?
To understand what mindful eating is, it is a good idea to look at the field of mindfulness as a whole.
Mindfulness is all about living with intention and being present in your body. You focus on your senses to keep you grounded. What you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
These sensations allow you to stay in the physical world instead of dwelling on thoughts that may be negative or unhelpful.
Mindfulness practices take many shapes, though they stem from the Buddhist practice of meditation. As such, companies like Headspace are paving the way to making mindfulness accessible for everyone.
And it must be working if companies like Apple, Google and Nike have incorporated mindfulness meditation as part of their company practices to help support employees!
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is all about seeing food as an event rather than a tick on your to-do list. It encourages you to listen to your physical hunger cues, so you learn to recognise emotional ones. In doing so, it allows you to form a better, healthier relationship with food and eating.
According to the eating disorder charity BEAT, approximately 1.25 million people in the U.K suffer from an eating disorder. Of these, 22% suffer from binge eating disorder.
Mindful eating works to combat these psychological triggers and focus on being present in the experience of eating.
Mindful eating expert Dr Michelle May breaks mindful eating down into the “mindful eating cycle” mechanism. It is a series of questions you should consider in order to eat more mindfully.
Why are you eating? Is it as a response to stress, emotion, or a triggering situation? Or is it in response to physical hunger cues such as low energy, stomach growling, etc.?
Am I eating now to honour my hunger or as a way to escape the uncomfortable situation I find myself in?
What am I eating? Is it of nutritional value to me, or does it just make me feel good (note the answer to this could be both or neither.) Where did my food come from? What journey did it take from creation to my plate?
How am I going to eat this meal? Am I distracted while eating? Am I alone or with other people? Am I paying attention to the sensations as I consume my food?
Am I eating enough to satisfy my hunger? Am I eating to the point I become too full? Am I restricting my eating? Am I listening to my bodies fullness cues?
Where do I invest the energy?
How am I going to use the energy I gain from eating this meal? What parts of my life will this food/ meal help me in?
Dr May’s Mindful Eating Cycle is the perfect example of precisely what mindful eating entails—going on a journey, observing every part of the eating process as a way to truly understand your body and heal your relationship with food.
Examples of mindfulness eating
Below are a short list of mindfulness eating examples, to show just how simple this practice can be, and how it is accessible for all to experiment with.
- Eat slowly, and without distraction. A study showed that 88% of us eat while looking at a screen.
- Taking cues from our body for when we are hungry or full. Our body is capable of telling us when we are hungry, or indeed when we are full.
- Taking note of your meals colours, tastes, smells, sounds, and textures.
- Attempting to eat only for health and bodily function.
- Being aware of how food has an effect on your feelings, emotions, and physical appearance.
- Appreciate the food you are eating. Express gratitude that you have this food in front of you, while many others in the world are less fortunate.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
For far too long, food has been the subject of moral judgement. Food is labelled as good or bad; we experience guilt over it. We judge ourselves based on our food choices.
With mindful eating, you will learn that there is no need for judgement. You are not what you eat. Instead, you’ll learn to respect your body and how food plays a role in your life. Mindful eating relies on judgement-free sensory responses to food instead of labelling foods as good or bad.
In this same way, mindful eating can help people recover from eating disorders through understanding the psychological triggers that cause their symptoms surrounding food, especially when it comes to binge eating disorder and emotional eating.
Although not the goal of mindful eating, plenty of research shows how effective mindful eating is when it comes to long-term weight loss. This is because a lot of overeating is caused by using food as an emotional coping tool.
Finally, by helping you only eat what you need and understand when you are physically full and encouraging you to eat slowly, mindful eating can help some people with digestion problems.
How to use mindfulness eating in your life?
Before you begin incorporating the following tips into your daily habits, I highly recommend you try this exercise by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has formulated a great, short exercise to teach the basics of mindful eating through the use of a raisin.
Ok, now you are ready, let's discover how you can use mindfulness eating in your life.
The mindful kitchen
How can you mindfully eat without being prepared? It would be very hard. So to make it as easy as possible to set out on your mindful eating journey, set your kitchen out mindfully.
What this means is first, consider where your food comes from and source your food accordingly. What journey did it take? The likelihood is if the journey includes lots of steps, it’s probably not a great choice to keep. Mindful eating experts recommend keeping to food that is as minimally processed as possible within your means.
Likewise, think about how easy it is to prepare your food. How can you set your kitchen up so that cooking doesn’t feel like a chore that leads you to order food or heat some fast junk food.
Aim to eat your meals at a table with no distractions from work or TV. This makes your meal an event you can enjoy and experience.
Room for one more?
If eating by yourself in silence isn’t your cup of tea, try and schedule your meals with the people you live with, so you can take the time to catch up. Not only will you enjoy your meal more, but it will also help you slow down, allowing your body to read your hunger and fullness cues properly!
Make sure to chew your food many times before swallowing. This way, you get to experience all the flavours and textures of the food you are eating. It also slows down your eating, allowing you to savour your meal mindfully.
Make your meal sense-sational
Using Jon Kabat-Zinn’s raisin exercise as a guide, make sure you engage all your senses during mealtime. Before even starting your meal, what does it look like? What can you smell? As you eat it, what are the different tastes you are experiencing? How does it feel in your mouth?
After the meal, think about how your body feels. Are you satisfied? Did it give you energy? Did it make you sluggish? All these questions and more will help you create a habit of mindful eating.
You may find it useful to keep your set of questions written down in your journal and add notes about how your mindfulness eating journey is going.
The two-plate method
Are you someone that regularly cooks or orders more food than they really need and forces themselves to finish it? Then this method is for you.
Have two plates: a serving plate and an eating plate. Put all your food on the serving plate. Then portion out some of the food and put it on your eating plate. Put the serving plate away and take your eating plate to the table to eat.
Eat mindfully and at the end, see if you are still hungry. If you are, that’s fine. Go and get some more food from the serving plate. Not hungry anymore? That’s ok too. Put it away and have the leftovers for another meal.
If you want to improve your relationship with food, mindful eating is a great place to start.
If mindful eating seems like a big task to take on, start by focusing on just one meal a day. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes practice to make any habit stick.
Set yourself reminders and visual cues to remind yourself of your intentions to mindfully eat, and remember you don’t have to rely on your memory; you can use a journal or your phone to help keep you accountable and on track.
And most importantly, if you miss a mindful meal, don’t be hard on yourself. After all, this is a learning experience, and not being mindful for a few meals is not the end of the world!
Good luck on your mindful eating journey!