Mindful Eating – what is it?

Before Christmas I posted about mindful eating and how it might be useful over the Christmas period. Now that we are in January, the time for new year resolutions and losing weight and eating better has hit. Maybe a bit of mindful eating principles would be more helpful than a new diet?

So how can mindfulness be helpful in this New Year New You whirlwhind?

First, let me take you through a few familiar scenarios:

  • You are bored or sad or …well name an emotion…..and chocolate helps!!  Or rummaging in the fridge helps. Or a packet of crisps….
  • You eat a big slice of cake and feel guilty afterwards.
  • You feel hungry and the food available is not what you want but you just have to eat whatever is there because you are so hungry.
  • You are not that hungry but there is food on offer so you eat it.
  • You make a cuppa and take the packet of biscuits to the living room while watching the television.  And you have no idea whether you ate 2 or 5.  Or you finish the packet.
  • You serve food up the same way every evening without considering how hungry you are.  Then finish everything on your plate even though you were satisfied halfway through.
  • You need to lose weight so you go on a diet, there are restrictions on what you can eat so you want them more and more, the things you are allowed to eat become less desirable and you enjoy them less and less.  You can’t wait until you reach your desired weight when you can stop controlling what you are eating.  Lost weight is regained.  You feel bad.
  • You eat nothing all day because you are having a ‘blow out’ meal later at your favourite restaurant.  Then eat so much you feel uncomfortable and bloated.

These are all common themes around eating and they are all examples of the opposite of mindful eating.  They are all examples of how we eat when we are not truly hungry, how we feel guilty for eating purely for pleasure and how we often feel hard done by when we eat things that we perceive as being ‘good’ or ‘healthy’.

First, a definition of mindfulness as a concept:

Image result for mindfulness definition

So how does that apply to eating?

By reconnecting to our hunger and the sensations that signal hunger.  Hunger is a physical sensation not a craving or mental sensation. Is your stomach feeling empty and rumbling?  Do you feel lightheaded or lacking concentration? When and what did you eat last? How much do you need – try a small portion?  While you are eating when do you feel satisfied?  We shouldn’t just clear the plate, we should stop when the hunger is gone rather than because the food is gone or we feel stuffed full.

By paying attention to your feelings – are you eating because you are truly hungry or are you feeling something that another action could sooth?  Are you bored or stuck on a piece of work so you wander to the tea point or kitchen and end up eating?  Are you feeling a bit down or tired?  Could you go for a walk, read a bit of the paper or a book, could you have a chat with someone, could you go and do a different task for a few minutes……? Or maybe a piece of chocolate or a cuppa with a biscuit is just the thing. That is OK too if you make a conscious decision in the present moment and appreciate the satisfaction that that choice brings.

By focusing on the the food we are eating.  Are you enjoying this food?  Is the food on offer something that you like?  Chew your food slowly, put the fork down between mouthfuls and enjoy it.  Allow your body time to react to the food and give it time to say ‘I don’t need anymore’ before you have eaten more that you need.  I think we all take food that is just there – the biscuits at a meeting, a slice of cake, food from a buffet – without really actively choosing.  I know have eaten things and thought I don’t even like those but I have eaten so many.

Awareness is important.  We often eat while distracted by other things.  When we eat while distracted – when we eat while watching a film or the television, while we are scrolling through social media, while we are sat at our desk working for example – it is easy to become disconnected to what our body is telling us.  It is easier then to eat more than we need, eat without enjoyment, to eat without thinking. The satisfaction the body gets from eating the food is diminished.

Challenge habits that you have.  Many of our food decisions are made a while ago, we repeat the same actions because they worked for us before to minimise all the decisions we have to make. Coming home and having a cup of tea and a biscuit just because that is what you do every night. Being mindful is simply taking a moment to confirm if that automatic action is what we want right now – maybe you would prefer a piece of fruit or a slice of toast or nothing at all.

Stop and think – can I do this a bit better?  Can I enjoy my food more?  Can I eat a bigger variety of foods?  Can I apply some of those old die hard nutrition messages to my day – a bit more veg, a bit more fibre, a bit more water, a bit less salt, a bit less sugar.  Note – a bit more or a bit less.  Not cut out this or that.  Be open to trying new foods, old foods that you are sure you dislike maybe cooked a different way, be curious.   Gently and positively.

For some free resources to help you reconnect to physical hunger and assess food satisfaction then head over to Let’s Talk Food and keep your eyes peeled for a short course on mindful eating that is in the pipeline.

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