Mindful eating is an extension of mindfulness, a therapy practice made popular by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While Kabat-Zinn did not invent mindfulness techniques, he adapted these practices commonly found in meditation practises to suit our modern lives.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about the awareness that arises when we pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and in a non-judgemental manner. Applying this concept to food means paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking – including what’s happening both inside and outside your body!
Here’s an example: think back to when you grab a snack in the middle of the day. Do you usually get to the end of the snack and wonder how it disappeared so quickly? Do you wonder if you need another because you’re not sure if you’re full or not?
If you’re paying purposeful attention, in the moment, then such scenarios are unlikely to happen.
Mindful eating means taking your time and exploring your food thoroughly. It’s about using all your senses to truly experience your food, rather than relegating the eating process to an automatic action, or something you just “have to do”.
It’s true that there are scripts for mindful eating, but if you’re trying to eat mindfully, you can’t be reading from a script the whole time! I suggest reading up or watching a video to learn more about how to eat mindfully, then taking it from there. I really like this video for a basic idea on mindful eating. Go on – watch it now!
Have you watched the video? Great! One thing that the instructor touched on very briefly was the idea of thoughts in your head during your experience. This is another important aspect of mindful eating. We all have constant thoughts in our head; we may not even notice them because we’re so used to them. It’s common to think things like “I need to eat less”, “This is so bad for me”, “I need to get to my appointment in forty minutes”, “I have so much work to do”, and so on, while you’re eating.
When you sit down for your next meal or snack, pay attention to these thoughts. Acknowledge them – then let them go. Bring your focus back to the present moment, and your eating. You may have to do this over and over again. That’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
During your mindful eating experience, you may also feel emotions like impatience, anxiety, or happiness. Don’t try to hold on to or let go of them – they’re part of your experience of the present moment. Keeping your attention on your eating experience will help you stay focused, without getting lost in the thoughts that your emotions may trigger.
Remember, it takes time to train your brain to focus on the present. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
More about the video
In the video, a raisin was used, but this is what all your meals should ideally be like: focusing on the different senses – how it looks, how it smells, how it feels in your hand (if applicable), how it feels in your mouth, etc. Remember, it’s about using all your senses to truly live in the moment, and experience your food.
This also means removing all distractions, so that the experience is solely about eating. That’s right – no phone, television, computer, books, or anything else that might compete for your attention! Of course, it will be tough to have all your meals and snacks that way. You might make a habit of eating with your colleagues or family every day, for instance, and social eating is also a distraction from mindful eating.
Instead, aim to eat mindfully at least once a day. It doesn’t have to be a full meal; a snack will suffice. You’ll find that eating mindfully while free of distractions also means that you’ll start becoming more aware of physical cues, such as hunger and satiation, which means you’re less likely to over- or under-eat.
Now that you know the basics, all that’s left is to put them into practice. For your next meal or snack, have a go at trying out the principles of mindful eating. Keep at it, and in time, you’ll find your entire experience with food has changed for the better.