One of my challenges for March is to try to be more mindful of my eating. Like any mindfulness practice, this is simple but not easy! While the idea of enjoying a meal without any distractions sounds straightforward, it is surprisingly hard to avoid mindlessly reaching for your phone, snacking in front of the tv or just getting caught up in random thoughts.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
It turns out that the simple act of paying attention during your meals can have a whole bunch of positive outcomes. Here are a few of the benefits that I’ve come across…
Less Overeating: Mindful eating is usually a much slower process than distracted eating, which allows you time to notice that you are full (and hopefully stop eating at that point!).
More Enjoyment: You might think that you’re enjoying your meals (maybe even too much) but mindful eating takes this to a whole new level. I knew that blueberries were a pretty tasty berry, but have you tried eating one mindfully, like with your eyes closed? They are kind of amazing.
Healthier Choices: When you start noticing the taste of your food and also how it makes you feel, you’ll likely find yourself naturally choosing more fresh, unprocessed and whole foods. I especially noticed this with overly sweet or salty processed foods and cereal. A lot of breakfast cereal just tastes like sweetened cardboard if you’re actually paying attention…
Noticing Problems: Part of mindfulness is noticing how your body responds to different foods and beverages. Is that coffee actually making you feel alert and energized or just jittery and mildly nauseous? Once you start paying attention, you may notice that certain foods just don’t make you feel great.
Noticing Favourites: In addition to figuring out which foods don’t serve you, mindfulness can also help you identify which foods make you feel great! You might also notice how timing of your meals influences how you feel. With my time restricted eating experiment, I’ve definitely noticed that eating close to bedtime does not lead to a restful sleep.
Better Digestion: Eating more slowly, noticing problem foods and chewing your food properly may all lead to better digestion and absorption of nutrients. I’m definitely guilty of eating way too fast and probably not chewing my food enough…
Cultivating Gratitude: One of the practices often used during mindful eating is contemplating all of the ingredients that went into the meal and also the time, resources and work that went into growing and preparing these foods. Feeling thankful and practicing gratitude in itself can have a positive impact on your wellbeing.
Tips for Mindful Eating
The first couple times I sat down to try and have a mindful meal it was alarming how much my mind resisted! The initial couple bites usually go well, but then I typically have a very strong urge to grab something to read or find my mind drifting into thinking, planning, and pondering random thoughts. So, here are some tips and techniques to help you incorporate mindful eating into your life. Apparently, like everything, it gets much easier with practice.
Chew More: You can trick yourself into eating more slowly by trying to chew each bite of food at least 30 times. This may feel like a lot depending on what you are eating!
Put Down the Fork: Putting down your cutlery between bites tends to discourage rushing through your meal.
Increase Difficulty: Making it a bit more challenging to get the food to your mouth helps you to slow down and focus on what you are doing. Eating with your non-dominant hand is a good way to give this a try. If your chopstick skills aren’t great, you could try those as well.
Pick Mindful Favourites: Eating every meal mindfully is just not something that is going to happen in my life, but a little mindfulness here and there can go a long way. You may want to try picking a few favourite foods or treats that are a trigger for your mindful eating practice. Personally dark chocolate is my pick…
Remove Distractions: Ok, this may seem pretty obvious, but don’t try to do your mindful eating in front of a screen. The idea is to focus entirely on the meal and resist the urge to multitask, so turn off the tv and keep the phone or reading material out of reach during your meal.
Breathe: Stopping to take a few mindful breaths between bites can help keep you focused on the present moment and force you to slow down.
Sense: Pay close attention to the taste, smell and texture of each bite. How would you describe it if you were a food critic?
Check in Physically: This is something to to do before, during and after eating. Take note of feelings of hunger and fullness, whether you feel energetic or lethargic or any other strong physical sensations.
Check in Mentally: Again, this is something to notice before, during and after your meal. Are you bored, stressed, excited? Are you eating because of hunger, out of habit, or because others are eating?
Give Thanks: Taking a few moments to feel gratitude for your meal and thinking about everything and everyone involved in the ingredients that end up on your plate can be a very helpful practice.
Be Silent: Formal mindful eating exercises are typically done in silence to help focus your attention. This is worth trying out a few times if you usually eat in an environment with noisy distractions.
Close Your Eyes: Try closing your eyes a few times during the meal to focus your other senses on the food.
Set the Scene: Taking the time to set the scene or create a bit of a ritual around your meal can be a nice way to start your mindful eating practice. This can include setting the table, lighting candles and paying some attention to plating your food. At the very least try to sit at a table for your meal!
Keep it Short: You definitely don’t have to eat mindfully for the entire meal or every meal. Try designating just the first 5 minutes of a meal for mindfulness or silence, and yes, you can even set a timer
Think Beyond the Meal: Mindful awareness can extend to preparing the food, cleaning up the dishes and really to all aspects of your life! Try it out during different activities and see what works for you.
Do you practice mindful eating? Any tips for making this a habit?