This blog post is focused on mindful eating. We will discuss what mindful eating is, as well as what benefits we receive from it and ways to practice it.
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept that refers to being present in the moment, acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations you may experience. In this context, it is seen as a meditation technique. Mindful eating specifically is more so referring to honoring your body’s cravings, hunger cues, and any thoughts that go along with that. It means observing how the food you eat makes you feel, as well as eating when your body is giving signals to eat and stopping when your body is giving signals that it is full. When you are mindfully eating, there is no judgment of any physical sensations experienced. You are not labeling good or bad, right or wrong. You are noticing and observing. It also extends to not just the consumption of food, but also the buying, preparation, and serving of it as well. It promotes significantly more appreciation of the food you eat. It is important to keep in mind that mindful eating is not about always eating healthy foods or never eating when you’re in a rush for time and need to eat quickly. It is also unrealistic to always practice full mindful eating. Sometimes we will need to eat quickly between meetings, as an example, for pure sustenance. It is also important to know that there are no strict rules that come along with mindful eating; it is about aligning your mind and senses while eating. It is about staying present and truly enjoying what you are eating.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
There are many benefits that you can enjoy from mindfully eating. Some of these benefits include a decreased tendency to overeat or binge eat and feeling more in tune with your body and your body’s needs. By practicing mindful eating, you can experience more pleasure with the act of eating. Slow down and try focusing on the texture and taste of each mouthful. Doing this not only allows you to fully taste and savor the flavors, but it is also helpful in de-stressing and relaxing. This is especially important for people who have busy schedules such as college students, parents, and full-time employees, who tend to rush quickly with eating. Taking time to eat without any distractions will allow you to catch a breather if you’re typically on the go.
Other benefits of slowing down your meal time with mindful eating include better digestion and more ability to notice when you are full. Additionally, by noticing what effect food has on your energy and mood, it will help you select foods that make you feel your best. For example, maybe on a rainy Sunday you might want a stack of pancakes with syrup, but realize that it tends to make you feel sleepy, and therefore prefer something else when you are busy during the week. Mindful eating can also help you form a greater appreciation to what you are eating by thinking about where it came from and how it ended up on your plate.
How to practice mindful eating:
The basics of mindful eating include eating slowly, chewing thoroughly, and eating without distractions. A big distraction for many people is the tv or phone being turned on as they eat, but doing this puts eating on auto-pilot mode. With mindful eating we are aiming for our eating to be more intentional. You can even start by practicing mindful eating prior to eating the food. You can practice mindfulness when preparing the food, by observing the aroma, colors, and sounds of the food. Doing this will help connect you with all of your senses.
Mindful eating can even be used outside of the home. It can be easy to forget about this practice when out with friends or when you only have a quick lunch break, but it is still beneficial and completely possible to eat mindfully when out and about. When sitting at a restaurant, you can practice mindful eating by taking a minute to appreciate the presentation of the food, the atmosphere around you, and the friends you’re enjoying your meal with. You can express your gratitude to the people and animals involved in order for this food to be sitting in front of you. If your job requires you to stay on your feet, then see if you can take some time to sit in peace and really focus on your food.
Something that can get in the way of practicing mindful eating is going into a meal feeling ravenous. It is important to make sure you do not let your body get to that point and listen to your body when it gives you hunger signals. Quick tip: If you notice that you are experiencing hunger cues but do not have the energy to cook, it can be a good idea to have something easy to whip up such as popcorn if you want a snack or a microwavable meal if you want a meal.
How mindful eating can positively impact eating disorder recovery:
With mindful eating you are satisfying your body’s physical needs without judgment. Doing this is a very beneficial practice in eating disorder recovery because it encourages you to fuel your body when your body gives you signals that it needs food. It reinforces the idea that food is necessary for your body and you are fueling it because you care for it, while detaching from negative thoughts surrounding eating and weight.
A hallmark of many eating disorders is fear of food and guilt or shame around eating certain foods. With mindful eating you can also learn to appreciate the food that you eat, instead of it being a source of guilt. One of the main principles of mindful eating is being in the present, so if your body is sending you hunger signals, you fulfill those needs without thought of the past or the future. Being mindful and practicing mindful eating can help you to let go of any rules surrounding food that are unhelpful, which makes it a great practice in eating disorder recovery.
Mindful eating is a great skill that can help you change your relationship with food. It is helpful to people both with and without an eating disorder. Learning a new skill can be overwhelming and intimidating. However, you do not need to go through it alone. It may be beneficial to seek a professional’s help in practicing mindful eating and healing your relationship with food. Here at Best Within You Therapy & Wellness, our psychologists have significant experience working with people struggling with disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image issues. Feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment with a psychologist for therapy. You can schedule an online therapy appointment or free phone consultation. It is important to remember that the process of recovery and developing self-love takes time but it is not impossible.
Mindful Eating Quick Tips
- Pay 100% attention to what you’re eating. Turn off all distractions such as the computer and the TV.
- Take two deep breaths in and out before every meal to cue yourself to focus on what you are doing.
- After your first two bites try to name every ingredient in your meal if it is a meal you have not prepared yourself.
- Put the utensils in your opposite hand when you eat to help you slow down and focus on your meal.
- Listen to your body, not your plate. Listen to your body to see if you are hungry. Check in with hunger and fullness throughout the meal.
- Practice eating while sitting at a table.
- Before you eat, ask yourself if you are hungry or what feeling is there. Sometimes we turn to food when we are feeling negative emotions like sadness or loneliness.
- Catch judgments of foods such as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. Focus on observing your eating without judgment.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself if you struggle with mindful eating. If you notice negative thoughts while eating, just notice them and then let them go. Go back to focusing on your body and your meal.
This blog post was written by Dr. Rebecca Leslie and Marcella Peach. Marcella is interning for Best Within You Therapy & Wellness and is a college student and psychology major at the University of Georgia.