How often do you “gulp” down your food without realising what you are doing, your mind being occupied with something else? Have you ever eaten a plate of food without even being aware of what you’ve eaten or how it tasted?
Have you ever caught yourself while eating snacks like popcorn or a packet of crisps, that you’ve reached the bottom of the packet without having tasted or actually enjoyed any of it?
Due to work and other responsibilities, we eat when we can, often fast, not at a table, mindlessly, squeezing in our food between tasks or while hurrying off to do “more important” things.
Because we’re constantly distracted by the TV, work, our computer or even driving while we eat, many of us do not recognise our satiety signals and end up feel stuffed by the time we’ve finished.
Why should we change?
Eating should be one of the most enjoyable experiences we engage in. However, in order to enjoy the experience, we need to eat mindfully. Apart from making food taste good, mindful eating has numerous other health benefits.
In a nutshell, mindful eating is about learning to pay attention to why, when, what and how we eat. As the co-founder of The Centre for Mindful Eating Jean L. Keller said, “Mindful eating is about enjoying the taste of food, the environment and the conversation while obeying hunger, fullness and taste satiety cues.”
The benefits of mindful eating are numerous and can:
- Reduce the frequency of overeating and binge eating
- Contribute to weight loss and reduced body mass index (BMI)
- Reduce episodes of emotional eating
- Help you cope with chronic eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia
- Reduce negative, anxious thoughts about food and your body
As you practice mindful eating, you learn to pay attention to the action of eating. You may become more aware of:
- What you’re eating
- The look, smell, taste and texture of the food you’re eating
- How hungry you are before and how full you become during and after eating
- Why you are eating at that moment
- Your emotions during and after eating
- What emotions might be triggering your desire to eat
Here are 7 tips which you can use to start implementing mindful eating:
1. Take a breath
We often move from one task to the next without pausing or taking a breath. By pausing, we slow down and bring a feeling of calmness to our meals. Paying attention to what you are about to eat will help you focus on the smell, taste and texture of your food.
2. Listen to your body
After breathing, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your belly. On a scale of one to 10, one being that you don’t feel any physical sensation of hunger and 10 being that you feel very hungry, ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” What physical sensations tell you that you are hungry or not hungry (emptiness in your stomach, shakiness, no desire to eat, stomach growling etc.)? Try not to think about when you last ate or what time it is, and really listen to your body and not your thoughts.
3. Let your hunger guide you
Now that you are more in touch with how hungry you are, you can more mindfully choose what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. This simple practice can help you to be more in tune with your physical needs.
4. Eat slowly
At your next meal, slow down your pace of eating. This includes chewing your food slowly and putting your knife and fork down in between mouthfuls. Taking regular sips of water and taking part in a conversation are strategies that can help to slow you down. A mealtime experience should ideally take about 20 minutes.
5. Remove all distractions
Don’t eat in front of the television, your laptop, or while driving your car. Set aside some time for each meal so that you can eat without distractions and fully appreciate the food you’re eating.
6. If you don’t love it, don’t eat it
Take your first three bites mindfully, experience the taste, flavours, textures, and how much enjoyment you are receiving from what you’re eating. Make a mindful choice about what to eat based on what you really enjoy. Healthy foods such as meat chicken, fish and vegetables need to be prepared in a tasty way with the help of spices, herbs and sauces.
By practising a form of meditation each day (even for only 10 minutes), we learn to pay attention to the emotions which we are feeling at that moment, without judgement. This practice will help us not to use food to stifle negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration, irritation etc. with food. This can have a positive effect on “why” we eat and help encourage us to eat more mindfully.