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Mindfulness. You’ve most likely heard of it. It has recently received a lot of praise from many influential people, particularly via social media. You may have come across mindful coloring books for adults or the many smart phone apps the help guide you through mindful meditations [which are both kinda great – I’d recommend trying some out!].
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, as a whole, means paying attention “on-purpose”. Or, deliberately being aware and present in any given moment, giving that moment 100% of your attention while calmly acknowledging any feelings, thoughts and physical sensations that pass through the body and mind, without any self judgemental or criticism.
This shift in focus toward mindfulness, although becoming mainstream and in some ways profit driven, is still a wonderful thing. We could all do with a little more ‘zen’ in our busy lives, as it can help us find gratitude, peace and appreciation of what is really important.
What does this mean in relation to food and eating though? Lets take a look a WHAT mindful eating is and WHY it works.
What is mindful eating and why it is important?
Mindful eating falls under the greater ‘Mindfulness’ umbrella, and is one of the many aspects of life in which we can implement mindfulness. Being mindful in our eating behaviors can help us identify and consider why we eat (if it is out of hunger or other reasons), when/how we eat and how these things make our bodies feel. This is so important, as it ultimately helps us to foster a healthy and balanced relationship with food, eating and our bodies (something which many people have struggled with for a long time).
To quote Mindful Eating expert Michelle May, RD, mindful eating is:
- Eating with the intention of caring for yourself
- Eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and how it makes your body feel
- Focusing awareness on your bodies internal cues of hunger and fullness
- Noticing responses to food and eating without any self criticism or judgement, instead with curiosity and consideration
What this might look like in practice:
- Take a pause before you eat to consider your intention – the concept of intentionality is very powerful. Take a minute to think about the intention behind this meal or piece of food – is your intention nourishment? Pleasure? Social enjoyment? Self soothing an uncomfortable feeling? You can have more than one intention. Pausing for intentionality offers you the chance to either continue as is, or to do things differently in that moment.
- Checking in with your levels of HUNGER and FULLNESS before, during and after a meal to guide when you should start and stop eating – often we eat past comfortable fullness without realising it, or we try to suppress hunger until it becomes unbearable, at which point we are far more likely to over eat.
- Going slow and really tasting and appreciating your food – consider the flavors, textures and aroma. Pay attention to how fast you are eating, complete each mouthful before the next, put down your knife and fork for a break between bites. Studies suggest that when we eat slowly and mindfully, food is far more satisfying and enjoyable.
- Limit distractions at meal times – put away your cell phone, turn off the TV and remove anything else that may potentially distract you during your meal, it is important to try to give your meal 100% of your attention.
Creating a meal setting that is pleasing to you – sit at a table with your food on a plate rather than eating from a container or take out box, clear away clutter, play some relaxing music, light a candle, adjust lighting – eating in a messy or chaotic environment can make it difficult to go slow and find enjoyment and satisfaction in eating.
- Consider and be curious about your responses to food in a non critical way – like, really like, dislike, neutral? Shut down the critical voice that often pops up around eating times [aka the ‘Food Police’] who might tell us we shouldn’t be enjoying something because it is bad for us. Let thoughts come and go throughout the meal, if your focus drifts [and it will], gently return it to the present meal. Remembers, thoughts are just thoughts, not facts!
Some things to consider:
Stopping at a comfortably full point can sometimes mean leaving food behind on your plate. This can be challenging as culturally we are accustomed to finishing everything on our plates. Experimenting with this can be a rewarding challenge.
Sometimes you may wish to eat past fullness, because you are thoroughly enjoying a meal or dessert. This is ok, because the decision has been considered and made in full awareness [and is not an unconscious or unmindful act]. Also, in these moments remember to consider intentionality!
Extremely important to remember:
Mindful eating should not ever become another set of dieting rules, i.e. “I must only eat when I am hungry and must stop when I am full” or “I must take at least 20 minutes to eat each and every meal”. If we employ mindful eating as a set of rules, we will feel angry with ourselves when we do eat too quickly or past fullness. As mentioned above, it is ok to consciously eat past fullness if this is what you have chosen. The same way it is ok to consciously choose to eat when you are not necessarily hungry e.g. perhaps something just looks appealing or you know you are about to get very busy and want to avoid getting overly hungry later in the day. It is the awareness and the deliberate decision in these actions that is important. On the other hand, if you do unconsciously eat past fullness or when not hungry, try not to be critical of yourself. Instead, be curious! Ask yourself what was going for you in that moment…were you stressed? Busy? Lonely? Happy? Anxious? Bored? Sad? This can help you gather insight and learn important information about yourself!
We are not designed to be mindful creatures 100% of the time. Our attention wavers, we get distracted and feel a multitude of emotions. Mindful eating is truly a gift and will transform your relationship with food, however it takes time and practice! It is not something that you are meant to perfect, as there is no right or wrong way to be mindful, although some mindful eating practices may start to come more naturally the more time you give them.
Even just a little mindfulness goes a really really long way.