Mindful eating is a method of changing the way we eat to slow down and experience food in the present moment. It might sound simple, but our minds are often too busy problem-solving to enjoy a good meal. Or we could be suffering from sensory overload.
But mindfulness, like many new activities, takes practice. And eating mindfully means changing your eating habits, which are often built around daily routines.
Here is an introduction to mindful eating in an approachable and realistic way. Use this guide to help slow down, chew, and enjoy the benefits of mindful eating.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is being present with the sensory experience of eating — without judgment or interpretation.
Though fundamentally different, there is some overlap between mindfulness meditation, mindful breathing, and mindful eating. A mindful eating practice tends to follow the following guidelines, and if you already have a mindfulness practice, you might recognize some of them:
- You eat and only eat (no multitasking)
- Engage your senses
- Stay focused on the sensory experience of eating
- Observe your mind, and when it wanders, bring it back to the present moment
- Practice patience and self-compassion
- Tune into your bodily sensations
- Make food choices that align with your values around health and self-care practices.
- Consider the source of the food
- Observe how food makes you feel
- Develop a joyful relationship with food
Benefits of mindful eating
- Less overeating and weight loss
Listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues means you are less likely to overeat. Aroma and taste play an essential role in making us feel full. Taste buds and olfactory receptors tell the brain what flavors are present and how much of each flavor is present. This helps the brain determine when we’ve eaten enough. Interestingly, in the same 2013 experiment (described above), researchers found multitasking makes us more prone to overeating.
- Increased happiness and stress reduction
By being present with what’s in front of us, without judgment or interpretation, we gravitate towards a more positive state. When we eat mindfully, we observe thoughts and judgments like clouds passing across the sky. This has a calming effect on our minds and nervous system.
- Improved digestion
Thinking about, seeing, or smelling food prepares the body for digestion. This is called the cephalic phase digestive response (CPDR). The CPDR is responsible for a significant portion of your overall digestion. Mindful eating aligns the mind with the body’s CPDR system. This helps prepare the body to break down food and digest nutrients more effectively.
Ways to practice mindful eating
Switch from mindless eating to mindful eating by starting with small baby step:
- Start with one bite or sip. Make the first bite of each meal a mindful mouthful.
- Don’t multitask. Our brains seek constant stimulus. Focusing on one thing (eating) may feel strange at first or even anxiety-inducing. Stick with it! After a few weeks, it will feel like the new norm.
- Take one breath before you eat -- whether it’s a beautiful sniff of your mindful meal or a single breath before diving into that sugary snack. Taking a deep breath to pause and connect with your body is a great first step towards a mindful eating practice.
- Use special occasions to focus on quality over quantity. Savor food in the company of others by discussing the food as you eat. Consider the source of your food and its journey from farm to plate. Give thanks to those who prepared it.
- Close your eyes when you have the first taste. Closing your eyes removes distraction and engages your other senses. Make this a mindful ritual – signalling to your mind and body that mindful eating is about to begin.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Focusing on chewing brings your attention to the present moment. Start with an initial goal of one well-chewed mouthful per meal.
Try these tips and methods to start eating more mindfully. But remember that it takes practice and some introspection.
Source – Kelly Labrecque, BetterUp Fellow Coach