Have You Tried Mindless Eating?
Have you ever devoured an entire package of crisps at one go without even noticing how they taste? Or slurped down a cup of tea without paying any attention to its’ rich aroma and soothing warmth? If you’re like many people, this kind of “mindless eating” (or drinking) while watching a favorite show or after a stressful day is something you are familiar with – and it may be taking a toll on your overall diet and wellbeing. Not to worry – there is a technique you can begin practicing today to help you rebalance your health, while also getting more satisfaction from those crisps. It’s called mindful eating, and anyone can do it.
What is Mindful Eating?
“Mindful eating” is something of a buzzword these days, for good reason. It refers to the practice of slowing down and paying careful attention to the experience of eating. That means noticing your own body sensations, such as hunger or tension, before, during and after eating. It also means becoming more observant of the physical experience of munching that goody – the smell, taste, even the texture come into awareness with mindful eating.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Paying careful attention while you eat helps you more fully enjoy the experience of dining. When it is a treat food being eaten, mindful eating helps you to actually taste and savor it, rather than just gobbling it down! This way of approaching mealtimes offers a chance to recharge from the hubbub of the day, and have a moment of relaxation as you nourish yourself. This in turn allows you to more fully digest the food. As you absorb more nutrients, your gut health and overall nutritional status is supported. Mindful eating has been shown in studies to support weight loss efforts, by mechanisms that include reducing binge eating and helping people gain more appreciation while eating less food. This is a win-win solution! The practice also helps you get into the habit of weaving mindful awareness into your day at different times, which has its own range of positive effects.
There is nothing esoteric nor ostentatious about bringing this attitude of awareness to mealtimes. In fact, you can do it without anyone else noticing at all!
- First, take a break. Step away from the computer and click off the TV, so you are able to be present for what you’re noshing without external distractions. You are de-stressing and lowering your cortisol levels just by giving yourself this little break, and you haven’t even had a nibble yet!
- Enjoy a few breaths while noticing how hungry you are, as well as any other obvious feelings, such as anxiety, excitement, depression, or loneliness. If you’re dining with loved ones at a special event, you may notice happiness and connection. There’s no wrong way to feel with mindful eating, the practice is simply about being aware of whatever is present.
- Be kind to yourself. No matter how you’re feeling or what you’re eating, see if you can have an attitude of friendliness toward yourself – it’s not easy to get through the day sometimes, and not every bite has to be a paragon of virtue. If you sometimes stress-eat as many cupcakes as you can sneak from the buffet table at a party, you may as well enjoy them. Practice making peace with the experience of eating, so mealtimes become joyous!
- Cultivate a sense of gratitude for the food you are about to consume, perhaps by thinking of how many people helped bring it from the farm to your table, or by appreciating any health-promoting qualities about it, such as the energy it will give you.
- Slowly bring the first bite to your mouth. Inhale, noticing any aroma. Place the nibble on your tongue and observe the texture and taste – is it crunchy, creamy, savory, or sweet? Do you actually like it? This can be a surprising investigation. When we really pay attention to the experience of eating, we may discover that we do not actually enjoy a particular food that we’ve been reaching for habitually for years!
- Eat or sip slowly. Put your fork down between bites and continue to notice how the experience of eating is changing over these few moments. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your body to signal that it has received the fuel it needs, and is no longer hungry. If you continue wolfing down your tucker without paying attention, you may continue eating long after your need for sustenance is satisfied. Let yourself linger long enough to detect the point when the morsels seem less interesting and tasty – this is a clue that your basic needs for fuel have been met.
- Carefully clean up and discard any rubbish, bringing the sense of mindful attention with you as you transition into the rest of your day. Appreciate how your body and soul have been nourished by the experience of eating with full attention.
Mindful eating is a powerful way to positively transform the experience of consuming a meal or snack. It does not require any special gear, nor does it ask you to go on a special diet or eliminate your favorite foods. All it takes to practice mindful eating is a willingness to slow down, pay attention to your body sensations, and truly notice the foods you consume throughout the day. Try it next time you open that bag of crisps or join your family for dinner, and see if it doesn’t change the whole experience for the better.