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Getting Started With Mindful Eating

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating sounds like one of things you don’t really have time for, doesn’t it? I mean, who has time to chew each mouthful for 5 minutes and put their fork down between each mouthful? But if you think that mindful eating is about sitting alone in silence and taking an hour to chew your way through a plate of food, think again. Sure, it could look something like this, but it doesn’t have to.

Here’s the thing: mindful eating can be simple. It can be accessible. It can be enjoyable. And it can fit into your busy life. In this blog post, I unpack mindful eating so that you can come away with a better understanding of this mindfulness practice and feel ready to try it out for yourself.

First of all, just a reminder what mindfulness is. The Center for Mindful Eating describes it as:

  • Paying attention to the present moment.

  • Being aware of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in the present moment.

  • Involving both your internal and external environments.

  • Being less reactive in thoughts, feelings and actions and instead cultivate more choice, balance, wisdom and acceptance of what is.

So how can you apply these mindfulness principles to how you eat? Let’s take a look at exactly what is considered mindful eating.

Mindless versus mindful eating

Before we go on, it’s important to mention what mindful eating is not; or rather, what the opposite is. The best way to describe this would be mindless eating aka how many of us find ourselves eating day in, day out. Let’s go through some of the key elements of mindless eating followed by a mindful alternative to inspire you to make the transition from mindless to mindful eating.

Overeating versus stopping eating when you’re full

Mindless: Let me paint a picture: you’re super hungry so you’ve ordered a large pizza. But when you’re hungrily making your way through it, you start to get the cues from your body that you’re full. But you don’t stop. You eat those last two pieces, even though your body is clearly telling you “no more, please!” Then right after you feel uncomfortably full and wonder why you didn’t stop. Sound familiar?

Mindful: A mindful approach to eating would focus on eating slowly to give your body the time to send you the “I’m full” signals. The thing is, your body takes about 20 minutes to catch up with your brain and send you the satiety signals. It’s true what they say–your eyes are bigger than your stomach. That’s why slowing down is a great way to eat the right amount for your body, rather than what your mind perceives it needs. In this way, mindful eating is all about becoming aware of your physical hunger and satiety cues to guide when you start and stop eating.

Emotional eating versus eating nutritionally healthful food

Mindless: We’ve all had a Friday night in with a huge tub of ice-cream and packet of chips to soothe ourselves after a particularly stressful day at work, haven’t we? Again, it’s very human to have this response to experiencing uncomfortable emotions or feelings: tired, stressed, anxious, bored, lonely and so on. But ask yourself this: is eating in this way a result of you listening to your mind or your body?

Mindful: Try this instead: when you’re feeling emotionally uncomfortable, take a moment to check in with yourself. Is your body really giving you hunger signals or is it your mind that is craving something? If it’s your mind, how could you satisfy this craving? Example: if you’re feeling lonely rather than hungry, could you call or visit a friend instead of diving into a family–sized chocolate bar? And if it’s your body, what more nutritious food could you opt for that would also satisfy your craving? For example: fresh fruit if you’re craving something sweet, or toasted nuts if you’re craving something salty.

Unstructured versus structured eating

Mindless: Eating a croissant on your way to work, munching on a sandwich in the car, standing over the sink eating handfuls of cereal (hey, it happens!). These are all examples of unstructured eating–eating at random times and in random places. Often this kind of eating is done alone and quickly. Having no routine or structure when it comes to eating is not usually conducive to creating a healthy relationship with food.

Mindful: A more mindful way of eating looks something like this: sitting down at the table, putting your food on a plate, using knives and forks and, preferably, sharing this moment with other people. Meal planning and eating at similar times of the day each day also comes under this category of structured eating. It doesn’t need to be rigid, but it can help your body to know when to expect food. Top tip - avoid food shopping when hungry as chances are you’ll find yourself adding lots of high sugar or high salt foods to satisfy your hunger in the moment rather than making healthier choices.

Multitasking while eating versus just eating

Mindless: How many times have you eaten lunch while scrolling Instagram, tucked into dinner while watching Netflix, or eaten breakfast while checking your emails? This is all too familiar for many of us who are trying to fit more tasks into our busy days. But, unfortunately, this means your attention is not on the act and experience of eating. In other words, you’re eating mindlessly. Think about it this way: if you’re focusing on watching funny dog reels on your Instagram feed instead of what you’re putting into your mouth, it’s hard to be aware of your body’s signals and know when you’re full and so on.

Mindful: Treat eating as the ritual it is and give yourself the time and space to do just that. I know, I know, you’re busy and don’t have time to sit down for 20-30 mins for each meal without also ticking something off your to-do list or being entertained but it’s worth trying to eat without screens or other distractions around to eat with as many of your senses as you can. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean sitting alone to eat. Why not arrange to eat at least some of your meals with others so good conversation can nourish you at the same time you nourish your body with food? Live alone and hate eating in silence? Try listening to relaxing music while you enjoy your meal.

Thinking of food as an end product versus considering where it comes from

Mindless: It can be all too easy to eat a chocolate bar without considering everything it has taken for it to come to be. Of course, in today’s world, we have lost that connection we used to have with food in our more hunter-gatherer days. Also, in many countries, we can access any food we want, anytime of the year so we’re fallen out of line with eating by seasons and eating what is local to us. All this means that our connection to food is weaker and weaker, we miss out on this connection to mother earth and it can be easy to think of food as simply an end product.

Mindful: At your next meal, take a moment to consider the journey your food has taken to arrive on your plate. Think about all the processes, places and people involved. Think about how far it has traveled. Think about the people who picked the fruit or vegetable, the person who packaged it, the person who transported it to the shop you bought it from. You can even consider your loved one who cooked the meal for you (or yourself if that was you!). Of course, you can go a step further and grow some of your own fruits, vegetables and herbs if you have the space to do so. Even having a small window garden can be a great way to foster a connection with where food comes from.

What are the benefits of mindful eating?

So now you know some of the basics of mindful eating, what are some of the ways that it can improve your health and wellbeing? Check out a few of the top ways below.

It helps you cultivate a mind-body connection

Mindful eating is a mind-body practice–it helps you connect your body to your mind. When you start eating based on what your body is telling you, rather than your mind, it fosters a stronger mind-body connection and helps you to reconnect to your innate wisdom in terms of your hunger and satiety.

It can support good digestion

Eating slowly and mindfully means that you properly chew your food and eat slowly and calmly. This can have a positive impact on your digestion as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for resting and digesting, rather than the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for your fight and flight response. Properly chewing also supports your body to secrete the enzymes needed to properly digest food, which can lead to less gas and bloating. From an Ayurvedic point of view, healthy digestion is at the center of overall well-being so practicing mindful eating is strongly encouraged.

It can help you enjoy your food more

Enjoying good food is one of life’s simple pleasures. Eating mindfully means anchoring into the experience with all your senses and really tasting your food. When you intentionally taste your food like this, it can be surprising what you notice, even when it comes to foods you eat every day.

It can help you reach your optimal weight

While weight loss or gain is not the aim of mindful eating, it’s a possible by-product of cultivating this practice. The logic is simple: when you listen to your hunger cues and eat in line with what your body is asking you, it could be that you eat less or more than you used to and more healthily. However, mindful eating is the exact opposite of dieting as it’s about empowering you to make healthier choices based on what your body needs rather than depriving yourself or being guided by external sources in any way.

It can help you heal your relationship with food

Mindful eating puts you more in control of your eating habits, rather than feeling that your emotions are running the show. Also, it shifts the focus away from what we eat to how we eat. That means it doesn’t matter what kind of diet you follow as mindful eating is relevant for everyone.

It helps you live more in the present moment

When you’re focusing on eating mindfully (or doing anything mindfully, for that matter), it’s a way to really be present in the here and now.

It helps you feel more connected

Through being mindful of all the people, places and processes involved in getting food on your plate, mindful eating helps you build an awareness of your relationship with other people and beings.

How to eat mindfully - The main takeaways:

  • Eat your meals and snacks at similar times each day.

  • Eat at a table, with your food on a plate and using cutlery.

  • Try to eat with others and engage in meaningful conversation.

  • When you’re eating, don’t do other tasks.

  • Try to eat away from screens or distraction.

  • Try not eat “on the go”.

  • Eat slowly and chew each mouthful well.

  • Put down your cutlery in between mouthfuls where possible.

  • Take a few belly breaths before eating.

  • When you feel hungry, check in with your body’s hunger cues and choose food accordingly.

  • Listen to your body and stop eating when you start to feel satiated.

  • Consider where the food on your plate comes from before and as you eat.

  • Eat food you’ve grown yourself wherever possible.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and you don’t need to do everything on the list either! Why not try a few of these over the next week and see how it changes your eating experience! And if you want to get more easy-to-implement lifestyle and nutrition tips, inspired by mindfulness and Ayurveda, then join my mailing list.

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