What the heck does "mindful eating" mean anyway? It may sound a little uncomfortable but it's actually something that can come naturally back to us since as babies we did it everyday!
Mindful eating, like any form of mindfulness, is a way to slow down and truly appreciate our actions, emotions, and experiences. By focusing on practicing mindfulness, first with eating, we can more easily incorporate this mentality into other aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, we live in a world where mindLESSness tends to be the norm, whether it be zoning out in front of a screen, driving somewhere and not even realizing how we got there, or finishing a whole meal and wondering "where did all that food go"?
This can often lead to us feeling out of touch with our bodies, minds, emotions and potentially relationships and our communities. So how can we reconnect with ourselves and bring a little more recognition into our daily activities? A WONDERFUL way I have learned to become more mindful, that not only translates into other parts of my life, but also greatly improves my health, is mindful eating.
By eating mindfully we can appreciate each bite of food and realize each meal as an experience, and in the end feel satisfied with eating only what serves us. Using mindfulness and intuitive eating (a slightly different concept) we listen to when our body is satiated by truly tuning in as well as making sure we are eating before we become too hungry. Try this mindfulness exercise with a slice of orange, or a raisin, or a small cookie, to start to understand what mindful eating means to you:
1. You can use any food that you like. Eating with mindfulness is not about deprivation or rules.
2. Begin by exploring this little piece of food, using as many of your senses as possible.
3. First, look at the food. Notice its texture. Notice its color.
4. Now, close your eyes, and explore the food with your sense of touch. What does this food feel like? Is it hard or soft? Grainy or sticky? Moist or dry?
5. Notice that you’re not being asked to think, but just to notice different aspects of your experience, using one sense at a time. This is what it means to eat mindfully.
6. Before you eat, explore this food with your sense of smell. What do you notice?
7. Now, begin eating. No matter how small the bite of food you have, take at least two bites to finish it.
8. Take your first bite. Please chew very slowly, noticing the actual sensory experience of chewing and tasting. Remember, you don’t need to think about your food to experience it. You might want to close your eyes for a moment to focus on the sensations of chewing and tasting, before continuing.
9. Notice the texture of the food; the way it feels in your mouth.
10. Notice if the intensity of its flavor changes, moment to moment.
11. Take about 20 more seconds to very slowly finish this first bite of food, being aware of the simple sensations of chewing and tasting.
12. It isn’t always necessary to eat slowly in order to eat with mindfulness. But it’s helpful at first to slow down, in order to be as mindful as you can.
13. Now, please take your second and last bite.
14. As before, chew very slowly, while paying close attention to the actual sensory experience of eating: the sensations and movements of chewing, the flavor of the food as it changes, and the sensations of swallowing.
15. Just pay attention, moment by moment.
16. The liberating power of mindfulness takes deeper effect when you begin to pay mindful attention to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, all of which lead us to eat. Mindfulness (awareness) is the foundation that many people have been missing for overcoming food cravings, addictive eating, binge eating, emotional eating, and stress eating.
(Exercise courtesy of www.MindfulnessDiet.com.)
Why is mindful eating important? How might it be a good starting point to a new nutrition and wellness plan? For me, mindfulness is everything, for if we are not tuning into our bodies and making conscious decisions of how we treat ourselves, it will only be that more difficult to stay on track with our goals and motivations.
Before meals, and as a way to relate mindful eating to mindfulness during rest of your day, here is a short exercise to try (this focuses more on hunger cues, which I will discuss in a later post):
- Take a moment to close your eyes and think about how hungry you are – are you even hungry? Describe your hunger from 1 to 10.
- Where do you feel hunger? In your stomach, your mouth, your brain?
- What are you hungry for? What food do you want to nourish your body with?
- Say a thought of thanks (silently if you want) for the food in front of you.
- Open your eyes and enjoy your meal, taking time to chew well, and try to make your meal time at least 15 minutes. Take time to sit and think about how the meal has helped you and try not to run off right away, but continue mindfully into the rest of your day.
Mindful eating is a great starting point to reframing your mind and starting your wellness journey, why not try it out and see how it goes??