Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We feel more alive. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D
Eating is such a routine behavior that it can be done on autopilot with very little thought. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, but more than half the time, we’re doing something else, too. Because we’re working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we’re not fully aware of what we’re eating.
A small yet growing body of research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and maybe steer some people away from processed food and other less-healthful choices.
The ‘mindful’ concept has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years and is a really useful concept when it comes to eating, since a mindful eating practice can help you to become much more aware of yourself and your eating habits.
Awareness is power, and it’s only through awareness that we can make positive changes to our eating habits, improve our relationship with food and feel more in charge of our eating.
Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to one’s experience, in the moment, without judgment.
Mindful Eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating.
Mindful eating helps us become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating, reconnecting us with our innate inner wisdom about hunger and satiety. The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will lose weight. The intention is to help you savor the moment and the food and encourage your full presence for the eating experience.
Through Mindful Eating you might start to feel more in charge of your eating, improve your relationship with food and set up and maintain long-term healthy eating habits. Mindful eating is about balanced, flexible eating, not food restriction.
It’s not about ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ foods. Diets can encourage an obsession with a weight loss goal whilst overlooking the importance of addressing problematic underlying eating habits. In contrast, mindful eating is about giving ourselves permission to eat the foods we enjoy whilst paying attention to how much and why we’re eating. When we start to engage the brain we can shift out of autopilot.
According to the physician Jan Chozen Bays, mindful eating can help you have a healthy and joyful relationship with food.
Mindful Eating is also beneficial for your health:
The mind–gut connection
Digestion involves a complex series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system, and it seems to take about 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety (fullness). If someone eats too quickly, satiety may occur after overeating instead of putting a stop to it. There’s also reason to believe that eating while we’re distracted by activities like driving or typing may slow down or stop digestion in a manner similar to how the “fight or flight” response does. And if we’re not digesting well, we may be missing out on the full nutritive value of some of the food we’re consuming.
Through the use of mindful eating, we can slow down, bringing ourselves into the present moment as we begin to eat. We automatically calm ourselves and begin to notice what was there all along but has been out of our awareness.
We are able to savor our food so that we can eat like a food connoisseur as opposed to a food glutton, stopping when our bodies are satisfied.
Why does speed matter?
Because when you wolf down your food, you take larger bites and chew less.
Your stomach has a harder time mashing those big chunks of food into chyme—the sludgy mix of partially digested food, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and water that passes from your stomach into your small intestine.
When food isn’t properly broken down into chyme, it can cause indigestion and other GI problems. We may absorb fewer nutrients, depleting ourselves of valuable vitamins and minerals.
We don’t always have control over what foods are available to us. But we always have control over how quickly we chew and swallow.
Think of slow eating as the low-hanging fruit of nutrition: super accessible in any situation.
It doesn’t require specialized meal plans or a food scale. No matter what’s going on in your life, or what’s on your plate, you can practice eating slowly.
I can observe a lot of positive changes in my clients as they, through adopting mindful eating, become able to connect with their own inner and unique experiences, moment by moment. Through mindful eating, they often are less prone to impulsive eating, reduce their calorie consumption, and are able to choose healthier snacks (they start having a preference for healthier foods in general).
In the process of learning to eat mindfully, through coaching we replace self-criticism with self-nurturing, anxiety with curiosity, and shame with respect for your own inner wisdom. Are you ready to try it out?
I invite you to start practicing today, try the following 2 activities:
Practice #1: Eat slowly
At each meal today, take a few extra minutes to simply… pause.
Put your utensils down after each bite. Take a breath. When you take a bite, notice — and enjoy — the taste and texture of the food.If you’re struggling to slow down, try a timer. When you’re done eating, see how many minutes have gone by. Now you have a baseline for improvement! Cool.
And if you add only 1 minute of meal time per day, by the end of 2 weeks you’ll have slowed the pace of your eating by nearly 15 minutes.
Practice #2: Eat to 80 percent full
You probably know what “stuffed” feels like. That’s the post-holiday meal feeling where you have to loosen your belt and breathe in little huffs after your fourth helping of dessert.
You might also know what “really hungry” feels like. Let’s call that 0 percent full.
Somewhere in between is 80 percent full. 80 percent full is when you’re just satisfied. No longer hungry. But not full. And definitely not stuffed.
At each meal, try to find that 80 percent point on the spectrum. (That first practice, eating slowly, really comes in handy here.) You won’t know what 80 percent full feels like right away; but you don’t have to get this “perfect”, just eat a little bit slower, and a little bit less, at each meal, until you recognize (and can reliably target) that 80 percent mark.
Please let me know how it went and if you have any questions about it.