Mindful eating is about changing the way you think about food. It’s not about judging yourself or the food, but about noticing what you’re feeling, what you’re eating, and being curious about the connection. Eating mindfully can help you have a healthier relationship with food and help you make decisions that are right for your health.
How mindfulness works
Mindfulness brings your attention to the present moment and creates a sense of calm for your mind. Instead of ‘thinking’ your thoughts, you notice them instead, with curiosity rather than judgement. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced regularly, but practicing is easy to do. Often, by focusing on the physical sensations around you – what you can hear, feel, smell, taste – you can bring yourself to a place of mindfulness.
Applying mindfulness to eating and food can help you make healthier food choices – as you pay attention to your physical hunger cues, notice your thoughts in relation to food, for example, you can start to feel more in control and less emotional about food. Some people find that eating mindfully can ultimately help them manage their weight, although this is a positive side effect rather than the goal of mindful eating.
How to eat mindfully
Eat more slowly
How often do you find yourself rushing food – because you’re running late, because you’re grabbing food on the go, because you’re just not thinking about it? Studies show it takes around 20 minutes from the point of being full to when you feel full. This means that you’re more likely to overeat if you’re scoffing food down quickly. When you slow down to eat, it gives your body a chance to notice those feelings of fullness and stop before it becomes uncomfortable.
Eat mindfully without distractions
Another reason you might not notice your fullness cues is due to distractions. Do you ever eat in front of the TV, or whilst on your phone, or at your desk? Of course, lives are busy and you might not always be able to pay full attention to your food, but try to do so when you can. Even taking a moment to close your eyes and really taste the first bite of your meal can provide a moment of calm and connection with your food and your body.
Emotional, external and physical hunger cues
You’re likely to have a range of triggers that send you in search of food or snacks – or even that stop you eating as much. Some people eat out of habit, others eat, or stop eating, in response to stress or other emotions, and lifelong ideas about when to eat can play a part too. Many cultures place food at the centre of celebrations, and you might find yourself eating more at certain times of the year because it’s just ‘the done thing’. These cues are likely emotional (stress) or external (culture), and are not necessarily linked to how hungry you are. Start focusing your attention on physical hunger cues – a rumbling tummy, lacking energy – and attune yourself to your body. It’s not necessarily wrong to eat for other reasons, but being aware of what you’re doing, and of your body’s cues, can help you make the right decision for you, and reduce the likelihood of regrets later.
Eat with all your senses
When was the last time you paid attention to the feeling of food – in your hands, as you bite, on your tongue? Do you really look at what you’re eating and notice the colours, the textures? What does it sound like – does it crunch, crackle, or snap when you bite? And what about the taste – does it taste the same at first bite as it does when you swallow? There are a lot of things to pay attention to when you use all your senses to eat. This is a great way to really focus your attention on your food, and it helps you slow down to eat as well.
Remember where your food comes from
It’s easy to forget how many people have been involved in getting your food to your plate. From the farmers who got up early every morning to grow the vegetables, to the delivery driver who transported them, the shop assistant who put them on the shelf, and that’s not mentioning the administrative team in the background who made the phone calls, sent the emails, and paid the wages – and the families and friends who support these people each day. We’re all connected in some way, and we’re lucky to live in a place and time of such convenience. Acknowledging this, and where your food comes from can foster gratitude and appreciation, and help you connect with and make healthier choices about what you eat.
Eating mindfully isn’t about meeting your weight loss goals or upheaving your diet because you think you should. It’s a way to help you avoid eating ‘mindlessly’ and give you more control over the decision you make around food. When you are mindful about what you eat, you can start making healthy food choices that are best for you, rather than being driven by external or emotional triggers.
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