Our world is constantly vying for our attention. Phones, computers, televisions, and advertisements ping and ding us throughout the day calling immediate attention to the emails we should send, the vacations we should take, the cars we should buy, and the food we should eat.
Upon some deep investigation, this game isn’t a particularly enjoyable one for us. And so as a reaction to all the noise, we remain committed to turning the volume down on what is less important in our lives and turning the volume up on what is most important. This practice – called mindfulness – can have a positive impact on so many of our relationships, including our relationship with food.
An introduction to mindful eating:
When it comes to food, mindful eating is not a diet. It’s a philosophy. It means being fully present at our meals. Choosing to eliminate distractions and tune into the tastes, smells, colors, and textures of our food. The goal is to expand our enjoyment of a meal and to celebrate the blessings of nourishing our body.
Karen’s had a long day (Karens, after all, are having a bit of a cultural moment so it’s understandable.) She crashes down on the couch with a bag of popcorn and flips on the television. A handful at a time and an episodes later, the bag of popcorn is empty. It wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t particularly enjoyable. It was almost on autopilot.
Karen has a bag of popcorn, but this time she sits down at the counter. No television. No computer. No phone. She fills up a small bowl and instead of grabbing a handful, she takes a single kernel. She can feel the texture and smiles at the fact that popcorn can be both rough and delicate at the same time. It’s almost like this little kernel of popcorn is a metaphor. Karen decides to eat the metaphor and is aware of the salty taste and the buttery flavor. She also find enjoyment in the fact that the kernels can dissolve in her mouth. The slightly burnt half kernels are her favorite part which she savors at the end. After the bowl of popcorn, Karen knows she could certainly choose to have more, but she also realizes that her craving is gone and she’d rather save the rest of the bag for later, which is exactly what she does. Karen has just practiced mindful eating.
To reiterate – the goal of mindful eating is to expand our enjoyment of food. As far as goals are concerned, it’s a pretty good one.
Some tips to begin practicing mindful eating:
- Create a mindful environment. If there are foods you would like to spend more time with, keep them in view and convenient. If there are foods you’d like to spend less time with, put them out of view. It might seem like a small step, but research indicates that people tend to eat what is in their immediate reach.
- Breathe and belly check for hunger and satiety before and throughout your feeding. Take a few deep breaths and relax the body. Check in. Are there sensations of physical hunger? How hungry are you? What are you hungry for? You might want food. You might be thirsty. You might want something entirely different than food. Listen to what your body is telling you.
- Sit down. Avoid nibbling in front of the refrigerator or snacking in your car. Put food on a plate. You will enjoy food more and eat the right amount for you when you give eating your full attention.
- Experiment with mindful bites. Smell. Taste. Notice and look at each spoonful.
- Turn off the TV, phone, and computer. Focus on the meal in front of you and the people you are sharing it with.
- Slow down. We understand our lives are moving at breakneck speeds, but being deliberate takes times. Our hunger and satiety cues are not instant and slowing down helps us reconnect with these signals. You can put down your fork or spoon between bites, pause and take a breath between bites, or chew your food more completely.
By way of introduction, I like to incorporation what I call a “Mindful Meal”. Choose a time when you would normally eat a meal or snack. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Eliminate any distractions that would take away from this date you have with your meal of choice and use this time to bring full attention to the practice of mindful eating.
Throughout the meal, notice how your hunger level moves toward feeling satisfied. Half-way through, stop and assess what you’re feeling. If you are hungry, continue to eat. But if you notice a sense of satisfaction, stop. Notice if it is difficult to stop at this point and inquire as to why. Give yourself permission to stop, even if there is some food left on the plate. Remind yourself that you can always have more later.
What thoughts and emotions are present as you eat and as you decide to stop? What beliefs and stories do you tell yourself about food and eating?
Try to be present for the last bite as fully as you were for the first. And if you eat more than enough, or feel too full, know that you have not blown it, but that you are simply now aware of this fullness. It takes time to learn new ways of eating. Every time you eat is a time to practice again.
What you’ll find is that physically nourishing foods will leave you feeling better. And certain foods will leave you feeling fuller sooner. If you’re really keen on exploring mindful eating with different foods, keep a food diary.
Ultimately mindful eating is about balance. We’re not suggesting that every single bite needs to be an existential experience, but we are suggesting that we’ve gotten so far away from being deliberate and conscious with food that we need to get back to a more healthy equilibrium.
The main thing is to give it a try. Remember, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. You might be surprised how quickly you find yourself more in-tune with your body and more grateful for your food and that my friends is a beautiful thing.
Love & muscles,
Mel & Rob