I’ve had a personal interest in mindfulness for a long time. I started teaching myself yoga in my bedroom as a teenager and it kind of grew from there. I’ve found mindfulness to be an important skill to foster. I’ve also observed in myself and women I work with that it is a useful tool to help navigate all the things that get in the way of becoming our best selves. When I started working with women around their relationship with food, I found many of the strategies that I used were based in mindfulness.
Mindful eating is simply being in the present moment when you eat. It’s about noticing what’s going on inside and outside of you. Using all your senses to interact with food. Not just taste, but smell, sight and texture too. It also includes cueing into what your body is telling you about hunger and satisfaction. This helps you to recognize when your body needs fuel and when it’s giving you signals that it’s had enough.
Mindful eating also includes being aware of your thoughts and feelings around food without judgement. Mindfulness helps us to recognize our thoughts without clinging to them or engaging with them. The analogy I like to use is watching a white fluffy cloud floating across the sky – we see it come and then we see it go. This can be a pretty tricky part of the process. We are so used to interacting with food through our thoughts – what, when and how much we should or shouldn’t eat. We follow a list of prescribed food rules or eating beliefs and we forget to connect to our body.
For me, this is the most powerful benefit of mindful eating.
When we connect to our body around food and eat mindfully we can:
– Reduce emotional eating and binging
– Increase our awareness of physical cues around food – hunger, satisfaction and fullness
– Reduce the role of outside info (like time of day) on our food intake
– Reduce overall food cravings and that ‘out of control’ feeling around food
Sounds good, right? So, how can we become more mindful eaters?
3 steps to mindful eating
Step 1: Reboot our food-body connection
This is all about getting in the habit of listening to the messages from our body around food and meals. Our bodies are built to let us know when they need to eat and when they’ve had enough. This process is just like the cues we get to go to the toilet. Unfortunately, we get disconnected from this inbuilt signaling system by all the messages we hear around food, eating and health. It’s time to reboot our food-body connection and take a moment to listen to and trust our body around food.
Get started actions:
Take a moment to pause and note any physical sensations
– Before you eat simply ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” and see what your body is telling you–yes, no or maybe?
– At the end of the meal, take a moment to cue into how you feel physically. Have you eaten enough, not quite enough or more than is comfortable for you in that moment?
Step 2: Connect to all our senses when we eat
Food is more than just fuel. One of the big reasons we eat is because of enjoyment – this is a really important part of eating and should be celebrated, not censored. When we connect to all our senses around food we can maximize this enjoyment. We can also get a better picture of the things about food that work for us as individuals, like what is your favorite texture, what visuals are appealing for you and what isn’t. Life’s too short to eat food you don’t enjoy and to miss out on the enjoyment of the food you are eating.
Get started action:
Use this simple meditation-style activity to connect with your senses. Start by just choosing one meal a week to flex your sensory awareness muscles and build up from there.
- Sit down somewhere away from distractions with your meal or snack.
- Take a couple of deep breaths to focus on your body.
- Take some time to connect with each of your senses before you start eating.
- What are you feeling? What are you seeing? What are you smelling? What are you hearing? What are you tasting?
- Take a bite of food and check in again with each of the senses.
- Continue to eat your meal or snack as you normally would. You don’t have to turn this into a mindful eating epic!
- At the end of your meal or snack check in with your senses again.
Step 3: Be aware, but not attached to food thoughts
It’s really common for food rules and food beliefs to impact our food choices and how we feel about ourselves (and our bodies) around food. It’s easy to rattle off a few well-worn scripts that we run through before we eat. Unfortunately, most of these thoughts stops us connecting to our body around eating and instead encourage us to use outside cues and rules to tell us how to eat. We don’t want to outsource our relationship with food like this.
The other not so fun impact of thoughts around food are the guilt-based ones. The thoughts that we use to berate ourselves about what and how much we eat. These are the thoughts that lead to binging, emotional eating, food cravings and generally feeling pretty crap about ourselves. Luckily, mindfulness can help.
Get started action:
– When you notice thoughts and feelings coming up around food, picture them as a white fluffy cloud floating across your mind or you can think of them like a notification that pops up on your phone that you read then swipe away.
– If particular thoughts are a little ‘sticky’ and you need help to ‘let them go’ you can try some gentle questioning. Does this thought help you to connect to your body or does it actually disconnect you from your body?
Mindful eating, like any mindfulness strategy, is a practice. It’s not about being perfect but simply about connecting to your body, your food and the present moment. The aim is to build awareness and trust in your body again so that you can eat everything you enjoy and enjoy everything you eat.