Mindful eating is less about WHAT we eat, and more about the HOW, WHEN, WHERE and WHY of eating. Mindful eating implies eating with the mind present in the moment. Giving meal times some attention and eating with intention. For many of us, eating is an activity conducted on autopilot, which can easily result in overeating. The idea behind mindful eating is that it turns off eating autopilot and grounds us in the moment of the meal.
“Mindful eating offers the possibility of freeing yourself from habitual reactive patterns”
– The Centre for Mindful Eating
Have a think about the following questions to see where you sit on the ‘mindless’ eating spectrum:
- Do you frequently eat while doing other tasks (eg. at the desk, driving, texting or emailing)?
- Do you often finish a meal, only to realise you feel very full and have eaten too much?
- Do you regularly eat despite not feeling physical signs of hunger?
- Do you eat simply ‘because it’s there’?
- Are you always the first to finish meals?
- Do you ease emotional stress/discomfort with food?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Are you concerned with cycles of overeating followed by feelings of guilt or shame?
The first powerful step to mindful eating is awareness. Answering the questions above is useful in determining how you usually eat. Can you identify any unhelpful habits? Do you have a positive relationship with food, or are many of your food thoughts negative?
How can mindful eating help me?
Mindful eating teaches us to tune into our own body clocks and listen to our internal cues. It brings attention to our own feelings and thoughts around eating. By practicing mindful eating we can uncover our motivations for food choices and sometimes even reveal deeper needs.
Tips for getting off eating auto-pilot
Focus on the task
Give meal times priority and stop what your doing to sit down and enjoy your food. Try to allow at least a couple of dinners a week to be about siting around the table and having a pleasant meal.
Do you ever notice how easy it is to polish off a whole bag of chips or biscuits when you’re distracted watching TV? Remove distractions from the eating environment. Turn off the TV and smart phone. Have some down time to eat.
Eat with your senses
Take a moment to look at and smell your food. This will help to engage you in the moment. Pay attention to your food’s tastes and unique flavours. Take a moment to reflect on the meal. Are you enjoying it?
Let hunger be your guide
Try not to eat by the clock or just because food is there. Instead ask “Am I actually hungry?” Imagine a hunger scale with 1 being starving and 10 being absolutely stuffed. The closer you get to starving, the more likely you are to overeat. At the other end of the scale, if you’ve eaten until your really full you’ve eaten too much. It’s good to find the right balance. Learn to recognise the points at which you need to eat (without being starving) and when you’re satisfied (without being stuffed). Find your 3 and 7 on the scale.
Hara Hachi Bu
This ancient Japanese philosophy means eat until 80% full. Prevent over eating by stopping just before you feel full or when signs of hunger have gone. It takes time for the brain to register that the stomach is full. Stop half way through the meal and check in with your tummy. How hungry are you now? Despite what your Mother said, you don’t always have to eat everything on your plate!
Eat slowly. Chew food well. Put cutlery down between bites. Take a breath between mouthfuls.
Bring awareness to your portion sizes
If you’re sitting on the couch with a family size block or bag of anything, that’s not eating mindfully. Portion out snack foods into small bowls and plates and savour the foods.
Identify non-hungry eating triggers
If you’re eating when you’re not even hungry ask why and examine your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations at the time of eating. Are you stressed, sad, anxious, bored? How else might these issues be addressed? Sometimes occupying yourself with other things that make you feel good can help. Try taking some deep breaths or going for a walk before reaching for the chocolate. Often the craving will pass.
I can have it if I want it but do I really want it?
Get rid of the food hang-ups. There are no good or bad foods, give yourself permission to eat what you want. But before you mindlessly gobble whatever is available, pause and tell yourself “It is ok for me to eat this, but do I actually even feel like it?”
Shift your mindset from weight to health
Too often our eating is about weight management and good and bad foods. The reality is, food is just food. It’s meant to be a source of joy not stress.
Be kind to yourself and make your food choices about looking after yourself and being healthy not about your weight. Stop focussing on all the things you shouldn’t be eating and instead give attention to the nourishing foods we can eat.
The art of mindful eating takes time and practice so keep persevering!
Try picking one or 2 strategies to try over the next week.