A Guide to Mindful Eating
I like to think of mindful eating as a chance to take a pause and consider the moment while refuelling. This means we get more enjoyment, not less, from our meals, and despite what you might think, it is not complicated.
This can be an incredibly powerful tool in many ways; from learning to eat our food slower for better digestion, to help us tackle weight issues, to aid us with getting to the bottom of emotional eating. Ultimately, learning to eat in a conscious way can help protect us from unwanted weight gain - a huge risk factor for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease (which sadly are affecting an increasing amount of the population).
Eating mindfully has been something I have helped a few clients with recently, and it has proved valuable for each person. For example, one of these lovely ladies had been struggling with emotional eating and binge eating. By going through the below questions for one meal each day, plus taking food and emotion diaries, we started to reduce her binges as she started to connect to the root cause, and how she could focus on Primary Food (the stuff that feeds our life off of our plates - i.e “me” time, socialising with friends, moving our bodies etc) to fill any emotional gaps rather than numbing her feelings with food. She also began to reconnect food with enjoyment too, rather than as a source of guilt. I will never forget how her face lit up during our coaching session when she was telling me about her experience of eating in this slow and considered way. She said something along the lines of “it was like a totally different experience, the flavours seemed so WOW when I paid attention to them, I was noticing things for the first time about foods I eat all the time!”
What my client experienced was just how satisfying food can be when we pay attention to it, rather than when we distractedly put food into our mouths. Why does this happen? Because we eat slower, with more presence and intention. It makes eating a more fulfilling experience for our minds as well as our bodies.
I could go on about the why’s and the benefits, but to fully understand, you have to experience it… So lets dive in with this step-by-step walk through for a mindful meal. It’s best used for one meal (or snack) a day for a week. Have a read through the below first, then eat with one of your meals but take your time to go through each question while eating (slowly!). Then have a go without the guide! But please remember - the idea is to be present, not perfect - use this as a guide but try not to let it distract you from your meal.
Step One - Consider the Environment…
…No not the planet (for the moment), consider what is around you while eating.
Before you take your first bite, go through the below:
How do your surroundings make you feel? Is it busy, are you stressed? Are you eating in a hurry, on the way to a meeting? At your desk? Or are you sitting at your dining table, relaxed with plenty of time for the meal.
Are there any screens on around you? Do you have your phone nearby? Put it away. It provides an easy distraction, I encourage you to give yourself this time to be present.
Notice what else is going on around you?
How do you feel in yourself? How are your emotions today? Are you feeling happy, sad, anxious, nervous?
Now is a good time to connect with your intentions - why are you eating this meal? Are you feeling hungry - will this food fill you up? Or are you bored? Looking for a distraction from work? Or do you feel upset and want some comfort? Take a moment to consider if you will really get that from this food, or if it might only temporarily help. Could something else relieve this? What Primary Food might help you? Would a hug from a loved one give you more comfort than what your are about to eat? If in need of an energy boost would moving your body help you to feel more energised rather than food? Star jumps anyone? How about going for a walk for five minutes if you’re feeling sleepy in the day rather than reaching for that coffee?
Do you feel gratitude towards this food? Have you thought about where it has come from? How many people have been involved in the safe delivery of this food to you? Consider the care of the people who have worked hard to bring this to your mouth - from farmers to delivery drivers, supermarket staff and even cleaners involved in keeping the shops clean for you. Upon thinking about this I find it nice to send a mental “thank you” to them.
Do you know what is in the food? Is it a fresh, whole food that has been grown? Do you understand what it has taken to get it to you? Have you considered the power of the sun and the rain, and day after day of growth? (Appreciating this always makes me feel very thankful!).
Do you feel gratitude towards what it will do for your body? Is it a whole living food, fresh and nourishing which will feed the the cells that make you you? Or is it a treat that might not be so nourishing for your physical body but will make your mind happy? Either way, appreciate!
Have any of these questions changed your desire to eat x, y or z?
Step Two - Focus on the Food
Take a moment to pay attention to the food in front of you before you even think about taking your first bite..... how does it look?
Appreciate how beautiful (or messy) the plate in front of you is.
What different textures can you see?
How does it smell?
Anticipate how the foods will taste, on their own, and when combined with other foods on the plate.
Consider how you will feel while eating this? Does this make you happy/satisfied/miserable?
How will you feel after? Will this make you feel energised/light/sluggish/tired/guilty?!
When you are ready, take your first bite, but savour it as if it is the last bite. Notice how incredible it tastes.
Savour it. How long can you make each mouthful last? Slow right down here. Make it last as long as you can.
How does the food feel in your mouth?
Is it very hot, or cold?
What is the texture?
What are the taste sensations?
Have any of these questions changed your desire to eat x, y or z?
Step Three - Your Reactions
Pay attention to you…
How fast or slow are you eating? Don’t gulp it down. When we are enjoying food we tend to eat it very fast… SLOW DOWN! It can be helpful to put your cutlery down in between bites to stop that automatic re-fill action!
Are you fully chewing your food before swallowing it?
If you are doing this ask yourself if you are getting the full enjoyment out of your meal? Could you slow down a little? Is it being gulped down without a chance to appreciate the experience?
Consider how you would like your food to be digested, I’m guessing smoothly and effortlessly? Chewing is important for proper absorption of nutrients. Did you know our stomachs have very powerful acid in them which can break down our food into usable nutrients, but it can’t break apart actual chunks - if you don’t chew enough your body won’t be able get the most nutrients out of what you are eating, and may cause you discomfort from indigestion).
Carry on the above considerations throughout your meal - How long can you remain mindful for? Don’t worry when your thoughts drift to something else, this is normal! Just bring your attention back to the food, eating and the sensations you get.
YOU DID IT!
How did that go? Make you realise a few things? I hope you learnt as much as I did, and as much as my clients have too.
If you are interested in working through emotional eating challenges with my support please get in touch to schedule a free consultation call.
P.s Would you like a video version of this where I’d walk you through these steps in real time? Let me know if you’d find this helpful.