Mindfulness can be defined as the action to observe what is happening while it is happening, in a non-judgmental and non-reactive way. While practicing mindfulness, you learn to pay attention to external stimuli (what you see, hear, touch, smell or taste) as well as internal stimuli (your body sensations, emotions and thoughts). One way to practice mindfulness is through mindful eating.
Science tells us being intentionally and actively mindful has so many positive benefits on our psychological health. These include, but are not limited to; reduction of stress, reduced rumination, decreased symptoms of depression & anxiety, less emotional reactivity & more effective emotion regulation, increased focus, enhanced cognitive flexibility, and improved working memory.
Mindfulness is a skill we can learn to foster, enhance and implement across all areas of our life.
Why apply mindfulness to eating?
In a society of performance, where we always feel the need to do and have more, it’s easy to become disconnected from our experience of eating. This can lead to poor eating habits. We are eating mindlessly when we finish a bag of chips or cookies without realizing it, when we don’t really taste our food, or when we grab something to eat by habit without considering whether or not we are hungry.
Mindfulness eating can help you slow down, fully engage with the experience of eating, and become more aware of the biological signals of hunger and satiety.
It can take a couple of minutes for your brain to receive the signal from the digestive system that you’re full. As a result, when you the time to eat and be fully present during a meal you will notice when you’re full which helps you avoid eating more than what your body needs. The general idea is to learn to trust your body as a guide for when, why, what and how to eat.
Strategies to be a Mindful Eater
1) Truly engage in the experience of eating
- Sit down at a table to eat meals and snacks.
- Try not to engage in other activities while eating (i.e. working, driving, watching TV). These activities will distract you from the taste and won’t allow you to notice when you are full.
- Before you start eating, pay attention to your plate. Try to notice the colours and smell of your food.
- Pay attention to the textures and flavours of each bite.
- Come back to the experience of eating if you notice that your mind is wandering.
2) Slow down!
- Put your fork or food down between each bite.
- Cut your food into smaller pieces or take smaller bites.
- Try to match your speed with the slowest eater at your table.
3) Notice how you feel
- Try to notice your emotions before eating. It will help you distinguish if you are eating to satisfy an emotional need or a physical need.
- Notice the effect of the food intake on your emotional state.
- Observe how you feel physically and emotionally after your meal. Do you feel heavy? Energetic? Tired? Guilty? Try to notice, without judging.
If you made an eating choice that triggered physical or emotional discomfort, don’t be hard on yourself. Try to see this experience as an opportunity to learn about yourself and what your body needs. Change can take time and practice. Have some self-compassion as you learn to engage with mindful eating habits and become a more mindful eater.