Mindful eating takes the practice of mindfulness – paying attention, living in the moment, simplifying, and being aware of your breath – and brings it to eating. Why mess with way you eat now? Because it helps you manage your cravings, curb overeating and be satisfied with less food. It can help you enjoy your the food you’re eating. And mindful chewing improves your digestion by reducing the amount of work the rest of your system has to do.
The benefits are many and definitely worth the effort but I want to be completely upfront about what the practice is like.
Mindful eating is really hard.
And boring. Really, really boring. That’s the genius of mindfulness in reducing overeating. It’s the complete opposite of mindless eating (that’s a statement worthy of Captain Obvious!)
When I’m having my lunch, concentrating on chew, chew, chew, I often can’t be bothered to finish everything I’ve dished up. My personal struggle with impatience rises up to play. I have a million more interesting things to do. Voila, smaller portions.
Gosh, I’m not really selling this well, am I?
Be assured that there are many people who find mindful eating a revelation. They naturally tune into the sensual aspects. There’s a commonly used mindfulness exercise that involves eating a raisin with the utmost of care and attention. It’s a wonderful exercise and people tend to describe their experience in wondrous, almost rapturous, ways. I always thought it was just me with the bad attitude until a delightful classmate whispered to me in her honey-sweet Southern drawl during an exercise at Duke: “Sweet mother of Jesus. Do we need to pretend we’re having sex with that raisin again?”
Whether you find mindful eating wondrous (like most) or tedious (like me) there is little argument that it works. When you continue through the emotion that springs up as resistance, you start to connect with caring for yourself, with gratitude for the abundance of life, with the simple pleasures of preparing and enjoying food. These spill gently and quietly into other areas of your life and you find that you’re kinder to yourself more naturally.
Guidelines for Mindful Eating
- Have compassion for yourself. Changing your eating habits is really hard. There are a lot of rituals and values around food and meals and you may find that you stumble on them when you try mindful eating. I can get super crabby about mindful eating when I’m tired or hungry.
- Start small. Like all new habits, it’s best to set realistic expectations.Choose one meal or snack each day and commit to focusing on mindful eating at that time.
- Focus on each mouthful. Think about the flavour, texture and even the sound of the food in your mouth. Focus on how much you like, or dislike these sensations.
- Chew. Make sure you chew your food enough so that it is well broken down before you swallow.
- Don’t eat while distracted. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety producing conversations or music.Try to be attracted to the colors, textures, flavors and smells, and savor each bite. Stop multitasking at meal times. Set aside time for eating without other entertainment.
- Only eat at the table. Another way to minimize mindless munching is to get into the habit of only eating when you are sitting down and able to give the food your full attention. No more snacking on the run. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
- Don’t aim for 100% full. Recognize satiety: the quality of being fed or gratified to capacity. As you slowly chew on your food and enjoy each bite, you experience a real fullness that completely satisfies your hunger. This sensation comes before your taste buds want to call it quits. As you learn to identify the hunger satiety point at each meal, you’ll find controlling your taste buds comes easier.