Most people who start practising mindful eating are quick to realize the many health benefits of this practice. The concept of “mindfulness” has grown increasingly popular in recent years. As a society, we’re beginning to discover the value of self-care, investing more heavily in mental wellbeing, healthy eating, good sleep, and regular exercise. Mindfulness is just one component of holistic wellness.
Mindfulness is the art of being fully present at the moment and actively engaged in your life, with the intent of being more aware of our habits. The concept of mindfulness can apply not just to eating, but also to meditation and relaxation, where you pay attention to every sensation in your body in an effort to reduce stress. Mindfulness is an extremely valuable tool when you’re developing a healthier relationship with food, as it pushes you to connect with your meals and eating habits.
Today, we’re going to explore the basics of mindful eating, what it means to eat mindfully, and why mindful eating is so beneficial to your health.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness is a form of focused “awareness” which helps people to recognize, respect, and manage their physical and emotional feelings. The concept of mindfulness comes from Buddhism and has been used for the treatment of various conditions, including depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.
With mindful eating, you use the attentiveness of “mindfulness” to fully pay attention to your experience with food. This could mean:
- Eating slowly without distractions
- Listening to physical hunger and satiation cues
- Learning to differentiate between true hunger and emotional hunger
- Engaging multiple senses during the eating process (smells, taste, vision)
- Learning to overcome feelings of anxiety or guilt about food
- Noticing the impact food has on your feelings
Through mindful eating, you begin to replace automatic thoughts and reactions to food with conscious, healthy responses. In today’s fast-paced society, people frequently eat food as a mindless act. We consume meals in front of the TV or check our smartphones when eating.
This mindless activity creates problems with our food relationship, making it harder to detect when we’re full, so we’re more likely to binge eat.
Mindful eating helps to pull your attention to the act of eating, so you can make the most out of every meal.
What Are the Benefits of Mindful Eating?
There are various benefits of mindful eating and engaging in more mindful behaviour.
Being cognizant of and paying attention to your eating habits means you can better understand what kind of feelings trigger you to overeat or stop eating. Mindfulness can even assist with weight loss strategies because it pushes you to listen to your body and distinguish when you’re full.
Binge eating, external eating, and emotional eating are often linked to weight gain and regain in today’s society, and many of these activities are linked to “mindless” eating.
According to studies, mindful eating can significantly improve your relationship with food, and make it less likely you’ll engage in negative behaviours which lead to weight gain. You may even be able to more easily distinguish the difference between eating because you’re hungry and eating because you’re sad or stressed.
When paying attention to your food and the responses you have to eating, you’re also more likely to notice side effects and sensitivities from certain foods which could indicate a food intolerance. This can help you to avoid discomfort and dietary issues in the future.
How Do You Practice Mindful Eating?
True mindfulness takes time and practice. For people struggling with things like binge eating and eating disorders, it’s often a good idea to speak to a professional and get therapeutic assistance with practising mindfulness. However, if you don’t think eating habits are too bad at the moment, you can begin to implement some mindful activities yourself.
1. Eat slowly
Eating more slowly is one of the best ways to practice mindfulness. When you chew your food thoroughly, you give your body time to catch up with your brain. Eating rapidly means you’re essentially just racing through the eating process, without paying any attention to what’s going on with your senses, your stomach, or your mind.
Slowing down means you have a chance to really understand your body’s reactions to food. Remember, the body sends satiation signals about 20 minutes after the brain, so it’s extremely easy to over-eat if you’re eating too fast. Try counting the number of times you chew to force yourself to slow down. Alternatively, you could set your fork down between bites.
2. Listen to your body
Listening to your body means paying close attention to every emotional and physical response you have to your food. With truly mindful eating, you ask yourself dozens of questions with each bite of food you take. For instance, you might question what the food tastes like, what it smells like, what kind of texture you’re experiencing, and how the food feels in your mouth.
Listening to your body also means constantly questioning how the rest of your mind and body feels, outside of your mouth, tongue, and teeth. Are you feeling exhausted as you eat, or stressed – which is making you crave something specific? How does your stomach feel after each bite?
The more you pay attention to your body, the easier it will be to determine exactly what your personal hunger signals feel like, and what you feel like when you’re “full”.
3. Consider your motivations
One of the first things you should ask yourself when you sit down to eat is why you’re eating something in the first place. While this might seem like an odd question, many of us have begun to develop odd relationships with our food. We eat meals based on a specific time on the clock, rather than how we feel. You might eat snacks at work because everyone else does, or because you see someone else eating.
Asking yourself why you’re eating will get you into the habit of questioning whether you’re really hungry, or whether you’re eating for another reason, such as boredom, stress, or social pressure. Once you know your motivations, you can begin to question whether you’re doing the right thing by grabbing a snack just because you’re bored.
4. Get rid of distractions
One reason why so many people struggle with mindful eating is that they’re constantly dealing with distractions that prevent them from focusing on one thing in particular. How often do you eat when you’re concentrating on something else, like your emails at work, a phone call, or the television at home?
Distractions make it impossible to focus on your food and how it makes you feel. They also mean you’re less likely to recognize when your hunger signals change into “fullness” signals, so you can stop eating. The next time you’re going to eat something, make a conscious decision to attend to your plate and nothing else.
Eat in silence and focus on the meal itself. If you’re eating with friends, consider paying attention to how your habits change when around other people.
5. Keep a food diary
Food diaries are fantastic for mindful eating because they get you into the habit of detailing your eating experiences. When you keep a food diary, you make notes of everything you eat and drink, right down to the exact number of carrots on your plate.
Food diaries also allow you to make important observations about your eating habits. You might notice you’re more likely to eat healthier when you’re around other people because you want to make a good impression of your dietary choices. Alternatively, you might find that whenever you eat out, you always finish the food on your plate, rather than paying attention to your fullness signals to tell you when you’re done.
Though it can be challenging to keep a food diary at first, once you get into the habit of recording your meals, you’ll find that it introduces you to a number of important lessons about your relationship with food.
6. Form a relationship with your food
Finally, a good way to improve your chances of mindful eating is to commit to learning a little something about what you’re eating. The more you pay attention to your food, the mindful you become whenever you eat.
Research recipes and find out where your ingredients came from before you add them to the pan. Consider how you feel after each meal and ask yourself why some foods might make you feel different from others. For instance, you might discover you’re more likely to feel happy after a spicy meal, and sad after something sweet.
Seek to learn more about your genetic relationship with food by getting a DNA test that helps you to see which ingredients you’re most likely to respond differently to.
Mindful Eating: The Bottom Line
Eating mindfully is one of the best ways to change your connection with food for the better, and regain control of your eating habits. This strategy is particularly useful if conventional dieting strategies haven’t worked for you.
Mindful eating is a safe and beneficial practise which can assist with most types of disordered eating. Consider giving it a try to see if mindfulness positively impacts your health.