So you've heard of mindfulness before, but mindful eating kinda has you stumped. Brenda from work keeps banging on about it and even Weight Watchers is encouraging it.
So what exactly is it? First things first, DO NOT listen to whatever Weight Watchers (or any other diet!) puts out about mindful eating. This is a diet, and all weight loss diets encourage restricting food you enjoy, which is the complete opposite of what it means to eat mindfully.
If you haven’t heard about mindful eating before, it is basically the process of bringing mindfulness to your eating experience. It involves bringing awareness to the present moment and really slowing down whilst eating, so that you begin to notice everything about your meal or snack. Think flavours, textures, smells, sight and even sounds of your meal or snack.
The process of mindful eating can be a great tool in learning to accept and enjoy all foods and allows you to listen to what you feel like eating. It can also make it easier to form positive experiences around food, such as enjoying your wine and cheese night rather than focusing on how many calories you consume, feeling guilt or shame or like you have to exercise the next day to “make up for it”.
(No food has to be “earned”, especially not wine and cheese! We are all worthy of all types of food, regardless of our shape, size or what we have eaten prior.)
So, how exactly do you eat mindfully?
1. Start small
Practicing mindful eating with everything you eat can be difficult, and sometimes a little impractical. Try starting small. You could focus on one meal or snack, really taking your time in noticing the sight, smell, texture, taste and sounds. Not quite there yet? Try your first bite of one meal.
2. Eat without distractions
This can be a tricky one. Setting aside time to just eat can be difficult, particularly if you’re busy. But it can make eating mindfully that much easier. This means eating in the tea room at work rather than in front of your computer at your desk, or eating at the table and turning off the telly (and your phone!) if you’re at home. You might like to tune in and notice how trying this out affects how much you enjoy your meal compared to your usual routine.
3. Listen to your body
Being aware of what your body is telling you about how hungry, full or satisfied you are ties in really well with mindful eating. This means that the whole eating experience can be noticed and enjoyed, from noticing particular flavours, to eating until you are comfortably full and satisfied.
(This is the part that the diet industry can never truly represent. Any form of restriction means that you won’t be comfortably full and/or satisfied with your meal!)
4. Pause and take a deep breath
Yep, it can be that simple. So often we get caught up in helping everyone else and keeping tabs on the long list of things we have to do that eating can become routine and not enjoyable. Plus, sometimes the thought of going through the process of eating mindfully can just feel like another chore to add to the list. If today’s not the day for trying it out, that’s ok. Taking a few seconds to pause and take a deep breath as you sit down to eat can make a world of difference.
5. Be aware of how you think about food
Working towards a non-judgemental attitude towards yourself and the food you eat also forms a big part of mindful eating. Food is just food. It’s not “good” or “bad”. Your food choices don’t affect your moral value either. Brenda isn’t holier than thou for drinking kale juice and you are not naughty for eating that double choc muffin you’ve been eyeing off all day!
6. Treat yourself
Little acts of kindness can help things along too. You might like to set the table nicely, have a vase of flowers on the table or even use the “good” room if you have one (extreme, I know!). The key here is to do something out of the ordinary to make it special, whatever that means to you.
Ditching the diet cycle and learning to eat mindfully can be overwhelming at first.
Remember: it takes time to change our thoughts and patterns around food.
Be kind to yourself.
Even if that means ignoring Brenda or throwing something at the TV when a Weight Watchers ad comes on.
Next post: How to manage emotional eating