In nutrition, there’s rarely a ‘one size fits all’ approach and different dietary strokes suit different folks. Some people thrive on a low carb, high protein diet. Others fare better on a grain-based vegetarian style of eating. It’s all about what’s right for you. But whatever your constitution, dietary preferences or challenges with food may be, I truly believe that Mindful Eating can be of benefit to anyone.
Perhaps you struggle with overeating and get the munchies late at night. Or maybe you’re seeking better health and a more peaceful relationship with food. Better yet, maybe you already feel good and would like to feel great by breathing some extra calm and spaciousness into your life.
If you relate to any of the above, Mindful Eating has something to offer.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful Eating is a practical, evidence-based approach to cultivating a healthy relationship with food. As such, it is well-studied and offers a pragmatic paradigm for discovering better health and freedom with food.
There are various definitions of Mindful Eating. And although I could provide a more clinical description, I like to conceptualise this through my own experience:
‘Mindful Eating is the art of being present with your mind, emotions and physical senses during the experience of eating food.’
I’d also nuance this definition a little by adding that Mindful Eating also has an element of surrendering to the pleasure of eating. As many people associate food with guilt and shame, (particularly if they are long-term dieters) it’s pretty hard to relax into a meal when you’re mentally freaking out about eating it.
Before we take a look at HOW to eat mindfully, let’s explore WHY it’s something you may like to consider for your own health and happiness.
Why is Mindful Eating good for you?
Despite the fact that it quite simply feels good, there is mounting evidence to demonstrate that Mindful Eating can positively impact your health. Studies have shown Mindful Eating to be effective in reducing binge episodes and emotional eating. Other research indicates that Mindful Eating may alleviate depression, stress and certain inflammatory markers. Mindful Eating has also been associated with lower caloric intake, healthier snack choices and a natural gravitation towards more nourishing foods.
Whilst mindful eating is explicitly not a weight loss tactic, I think these findings are indicative of the general tendency for humans to naturally regulate their own appetite and nutrition needs very capably when we’re in tune with our bodies.
In my professional practice and personal experience, I have found that Mindful Eating is one of the best tools to help women reconnect with their natural appetite cues and reconcile their relationship with food and their bodies.
How To Eat More Mindfully
Whilst it’s always ideal to work with a qualified practitioner, there are a few fundamentals that anyone can start with. I kindly encourage you to approach this in a gentle fashion; we don’t need to do everything at once! Start with some small changes and explore how you feel with patience and self-compassion:
- Switch off the TV. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t like the sound of this first tip! Advice to eat away from the television is often met with loads of resistance from my clients. That is, until they come back and thank me for what a difference it has made in their life. Watching television whilst eating is associated with a higher intake of processed foods and lower consumption of vegetables amongst children. The impact of general television viewing on adults’ general health is also well documented. But perhaps most importantly, eating and watching TV is simply antithetical to Mindfulness. By its very design, TV is created to draw you out of this world and into another, so how can you be present with your meal whilst your mind is absorbed in a show?
- Create a mindful eating space. To support Step 1, I would kindly encourage you to create a space somewhere in your home that is designated for eating only. This doesn’t have to be lonely. Rather, think about how you can create a table setting and atmosphere that you are positively drawn to. Pick a few flowers to place on the table, light candles, play some relaxing music and if you can afford to, invest in a table setting that you would genuinely love to use. In time, my hope (and experience) is that you will naturally start to feel pulled toward your Mindful Eating space. For me personally, a mindful, peaceful meal feels like a contented sigh at the end of a busy day and it helps me to unwind.
- Take a mindful moment. Before you eat, take a deep breath in and a long, slow exhale. This helps to calm your nervous system (which is important for digestion) and also allows you to quickly drop into your body and connect with your emotions and physical state of appetite. Are you tired or energised? What signals for hunger is your body offering…or not? How do you feel in this moment? These questions can help to draw you out of thought and into the present moment. You may also like to set a simple intention, such as , ‘I give myself permission to eat peacefully and enjoy this meal with mindfulness’.
- Engage your senses. As you eat, mentally identify a texture, smell and taste that you are experiencing. Is this mouthful sweet, salty, bitter, hot, cool, creamy or otherwise? Mentally observe the intricate sensations that food offers us. Notice how the taste and textures change as you chew.
- Chew slowly. In today’s rush-around world, the last thing most of us feel inclined to do is chew our food properly. In addition to the digestive impact, I really think we are robbing ourselves of the mindful pleasure of a meal by gulping it down! There are loads of apps that can help you to slow down and chew mindfully. My favourite is Mindful Bite, as it offers a silent vibration that you can discreetly place in your lap as you are teaching yourself to form a new pace of eating. The important caveat here is not to be militant about it though; an accomplished Mindful Eater is not attached to ‘perfection’. Mindful Eating is about a non-judgement awareness and exploration of your current meal and it doesn’t have to be ‘right’ or ‘perfect’.
- Journal a little. Committing pen to paper to distill your thoughts can be a powerful way to integrate a new habit. I remember when I first trialled a mindful eating exercise with my favourite chocolate; I had so many insights to write down! Journaling is a great way to get ‘stuff’ out of your head and grant you fresh perspective.
Above all, one of the most important tips is to be self-kind and non-judgemental as you explore a more Mindful approach to food and eating. The goal here is never to be ‘perfect’ because
- a) no one ever really is,
- b) that mentality aligns with diet culture,
- and c) critical self-talk sends us back up into our minds and away from our beautiful bodies that we are trying to reconnect with.
Mindful Eating is an art as much as a science. Please note that this is not designed to be another ‘control measure’ to help you eat less. It’s about embracing what is here right now and knowing that your relationship with food doesn’t need to be perfect right now (or ever) to be okay. Rather than rushing our way through another guilt-laden meal, it’s about waking up to the present moment and understanding what is here for you now.
Want to learn more about Mindful Eating?
If you would like to take a more in depth dive into Mindful Eating, I warmly welcome you to join my FREE 5 Day Mindful Eating Video Series. Over 5 days, in short but sweet tutorials, I step you through the Fundamentals of how to eat more mindfully and discover greater peace with food.