Mindful eating is a mindfulness practice whereby we bring our full attention to the experience of eating and drinking. From hunger triggers and eating habits, to food choices and the effects of food on our health and wellbeing. The practice of mindful eating also allows us to explore food and drink with all our senses; the colours and textures we see and feel, the scents we smell, flavours we taste and even the sounds we hear.
Unmindful eating is often a reaction to an emotional trigger rather than actual physical hunger. As a result of feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated or bored, we try to feel better through the consumption of food and drink. When we are consumed with the needs of our minds we ignore our bodies. External triggers like exposure to food or eating to socialise also influence us to make food choices that do not directly reflect what our bodies need.
My own past experiences of eating and drinking were often triggered by social interaction and emotional discomfort, combined with an ongoing battle with body dysmorphia. The saying ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’ became my motto. I began to label every eating experience as a bad one, which eventually resulted in a destructive cycle of binge eating and rigid restriction.
Through the practice mindful eating, I rebuilt my relationship with my body. I became able to distinguish between my emotional triggers and my body’s signals of physical hunger. I can now reflect on the effects of unmindful eating outside of body image, and from a genuine place of love and kindness.
Habitual eating behaviours are not easy to change. It takes lots of practise and patience. Here are five steps to guide you on your own personal journey:
Tuning into your body
We often eat when our minds tell us to, rather than our bodies. Tuning into our bodies allow us to pay closer attention to our eating urges, developing our awareness of our physical hunger and fullness triggers. Get to know how your body feels when you’re physically hungry. It may be tightness or a growl of the stomach, or perhaps feeling light-headedness or low on energy. Listen deeply to your body’s signals and try to continue this awareness throughout your eating experience. Pause and tune into the body before you begin to eat and notice how your body feels. Pause halfway through your meal and notice how your body feels in comparison to when you began. Can you still feel a signal for hunger or have you begun to feel full?
Honouring the process
It’s so easy to become disconnected to the life cycle of our food. Unless we have farmed the raw ingredients and prepared the meal ourselves, we often don’t look beyond our plates. Honouring the journey of our food each time we eat we increases our consciousness around the impact of our food choices. We are able to truly appreciate our food, and deepen our connection to nature and each other. When sitting down to enjoy your next meal, take a moment to consider how each ingredient came to be on your plate. Appreciate the combination of natural elements, living beings and cultural practices that brought each ingredient into fruition. If not prepared by yourself, try to envision that process too. I also recommend that you silently give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy your meal and for anyone you are enjoying it with.
Although I’ve been able to curb binge my eating episodes, I still struggle with overeating on occasions as a result of eating too quickly. Being mindful when we are eating allows the body to respond properly to what it’s doing. By slowing down we give our body a chance to catch up with our mind, and we can tune into the signals to eat the right amount. Whilst eating your next meal, try to slow down the process. Take smaller mouthfuls, placing your cutlery down whilst chewing as many times as you can before you swallow. Eat slowly and mindfully using all of your senses. Take time to enjoy and savour the textures and flavours. Stop eating when you feel your fullness triggers kicking in.
Screens, socialising and multitasking can often shift our awareness away from the direct experience of eating and drinking. Next time you have something to eat or drink, perhaps attempt to take your first few bites or sips with your full attention. Notice how the cup or cutlery feels in your hands. Take note of the colours, shapes, smells and sounds of your food. Pay attention to how the food feels in your mouth; the taste sensations, temperature and texture, and any tastes that linger after you swallow. Throughout the experience notice any thoughts that arise, or impulses to pick up your phone, watch or read something. Witness your mind pull away and wander, bringing it back to the experience as often as you can. Remember to tune into your body for your hunger and fullness triggers, and notice how your food makes you feel before, during and after each meal.
Love and kindness
We tend to have a lot of guilt and anxiety around the topic of food. I have certainly had to navigate through a host of negative emotions throughout my own journey. It’s important to acknowledge that there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience. Accept that your own eating experiences are unique. And even with our best intentions there will be times when we forget to eat mindfully. In certain social environments it will be almost impossible to eat in a meditative state. Be flexible with changes in eating behaviour and food choices. Most importantly, with the practice of mindful eating, be curious, be gentle and be kind.