Food has become something we often consume quickly and mindlessly in our fast-paced society. Whether we are driving somewhere and eating on the road or at home eating a snack in front of the television, consuming food is often paired with another activity. We rarely put our full attention to what we are eating and the experience it brings us.
There is an approach to eating that pulls our attention away from distractions and refocuses our mind on the experience of preparing and eating food. Let’s explore this approach and see how we can begin acknowledging and appreciating the eating experience.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness is giving attention to the here and now, using all senses to take in only what is going on in the present moment. Mindfulness can be used to bring awareness to our physical bodies, emotions and thoughts. Mindful eating is taking this concept of awareness of the present moment and applying it to food. This means practicing awareness before, during and after eating to fully experience the process of eating.
Is Mindful Eating a diet?
Mindful eating is not a diet. This practice does not restrict what you eat like a traditional diet may do. Instead, mindful eating is the process of awareness. It removes the multi-tasking out of meals and replaces it with full presence while consuming food.
What are the benefits of Mindful Eating?
Benefits of mindful eating can include better digestion. By chewing food thoroughly, your digestive system will be able to improve digestion compared to chewing only a few times and swallowing.
You may also find that your stomach is less prone to being upset after eating. This could be due to better digestion, but also due to following your body’s hunger cues to prevent overeating.
Listening to hunger cues and stopping when full can also lead to less calories consumed overall. Remember, mindful eating is not about restriction; it is about listening to your body’s gut signaling to know when you are full. If you experience overeating, being mindful of how your body responds to meals and snacks can help inform your food choices and amounts.
Finally, you can experience more enjoyment from the food you consume. By shifting your focus from multitasking to solely on eating, you have an opportunity to truly taste your food and reflect on each bite.
How to practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating can look different for different people, but there are some general tips for getting started.
- Remove all distractions: Mindful eating is all about undivided attention while eating. Removing distractions like phones, televisions and books will allow you to focus only on your meal or snack.
- Start with grocery shopping: Mindful eating can start at the grocery store. Look at your list of items and carefully consider each one. What will it be used for? What journey did the item take to get to the grocery store? How will it impact your health? Asking intentional questions about what you buy at the grocery store can be the first step toward mindful eating.
- Pause when you feel hungry: Sometimes, other physical states like stress or boredom can feel like hunger. Pausing to consider whether you are truly hungry before eating can help sort out the difference between physical hunger and other needs. If you find that you may want to eat because of boredom or stress, try doing something that addresses that need first. Hunger cues can be hard to decipher; be gentle and kind to yourself while you sort through your cues.
- Slow down before eating: Before diving into your meal or snack, take a couple of minutes to pause and think about the food you are about to consume. Approach it with child-like curiosity. What colors are on the plate? What shapes and textures do you see? What do you smell? If there is handheld food, what does it feel like in your hand? Take a couple of minutes to experience the food with your eyes and nose before tasting.
- Slow down while eating: Mindfulness is all about fully experiencing the present moment. The only way to do that is to slow down each action during the eating process. Chew each bite of food thoroughly before swallowing. Notice the full flavor profile of your food. Take pauses to check in with your hunger level and only continue if you know your stomach is not full yet.
- Be nonjudgmental: We all have different thoughts and feelings surrounding food. Part of mindfulness is acknowledging when any thoughts occur without judgement. Notice the feeling and acknowledge it as a thought you have towards food, but don’t judge yourself for it or let it linger. Move your attention back to all of your senses in the present moment as you consume your meal or snack.
- Stop when you are full: The “clean plate club” is something many of us are familiar with from childhood. We were encouraged to finish our entire plate of food, even if we were not hungry for all of it. Mindful eating includes focusing on hunger cues and stopping when you are satisfied instead of eating until you are stuffed or have finished all your food. When you feel satisfied, stop and take a moment to reflect on all that you just experienced during your meal or snack. Pause for just a minute or two to reflect.
Start small to build a habit of Mindful Eating
When trying a new lifestyle technique, it can be easy to feel like we need to deprive ourselves in the process. Mindful eating includes removing all distractions from your environment while eating, but you do not need to remove the activity out of your entire day. If you typically enjoy your favorite activities, like reading or watching television, while eating, make sure to incorporate those activities into a different part of your day. This will help you build a habit of mindful eating while still enjoying your favorite activities.
Mindful eating may not feel natural at first, especially if you are used to eating with distractions around you. Consider trying for just one snack or small meal to get started. Try it out and encounter a more mindful experience with the food you eat.
Kristen Phillips, an AmeriCorps VISTA at CICOA, brings her background in hunger relief and working with older adults with dementia to the Meals & More department. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from Appalachian State University. While in school, Kristen worked with people of all ages to refine her skills as a music therapist. During her studies, she found her passion working with older adults with dementia and continued working with this population during a six-month internship to finish her certification. In 2018, she moved to Indianapolis to begin her first AmeriCorps VISTA term and gained experience in hunger relief efforts. Since then, Kristen has made Central Indiana her home.