Like mindfulness, mindful eating has become a bit of a buzz word, but what is it and is it really beneficial to health? Well, mindful eating is just one mindful practice (if you didn’t read my post about mindfulness and the health benefits of it, you can read that here: https://www.shalomhealth.com.au/post/mindfulness-an-invaluable-tool-in-the-midst-of-chaos?fbclid=IwAR12E4nu5WHUKpnJIBDvw7SziulFKPwUFQY4zsQ4kEJIJ61W349bC6aEgRA).
If mindfulness is about purposefully focusing all of our attention on the current moment and accepting it without judgement; then mindful eating is purposefully focusing our attention on the act of eating, without judgement. It involves eating with an awareness of all our senses – observing - rather than judging - how the food makes you feel; and can extend to the whole process of planning, shopping, preparing and serving the food as well as eating it. It isn’t about what you eat, but how you eat it – which is also important.
Too often we become disconnected from our food – eating in a hurry or on the go, or in front of the television. We become unaware of our bodies hunger & fullness signals and how food makes us feel. Mindless eating (the opposite to mindful eating) is very common because we are trained from a very early age to eat in response to external cues (such as time of day, habit or out of boredom; to finish all that’s on our plate even if we aren’t hungry; to eat while we play, or in front of the TV; or as a reward). When we eat mindfully we become more connected with our food and bodies.
Research shows that mindful eating may help people reduce overeating, enjoy food and become more in touch with their hunger and fullness signals. Here are a few other benefits of mindful eating:
It can help us to become more aware of what foods make us feel good, and therefore help to guide our food choices.
It engages our senses in eating, allowing us to savor food and ultimately aiding digestion.
It often encourages us to be adventurous with our food, increasing choice & diversity - and ultimately nourishment.
It brings a sense of calm and can help us to become less caught up in the complicated emotions we may have around food.
It often allows for more relationship with others as we engage with them over the meal table.
So how do you eat mindfully? In its simplest form, it’s mostly about putting aside other distractions and focusing on eating. Here are some suggestions:
The first thing we can do is put aside distractions as we eat – turn off the TV, put the phone or book or work aside. Sit down to eat and practice being present and mindful with your meal.
Before eating, ask yourself, ‘am I hungry?’, ‘am I thirsty’, ‘what do I want to eat or drink?’
Pay attention to the food as you prepare it. Notice how it smells. Arrange it nicely on your plate.
Eat slowly, paying attention to the look, smell, taste, texture and sound of the food.
Pay attention to your body’s signals – be aware of when you are feeling satisfied & stop eating (even if there is still food on the plate).
If you finish your serve and are contemplating going back for seconds, first stop and ask yourself, am ‘I still hungry?’. I give myself a few minutes to let the food settle and then see if I am still feeling hungry.
You can also have a bit of fun with a more formal mindful eating exercise which can help you to train yourself to eat more mindfully and it can be used just to practice mindfulness in general. It can also be a good one to introduce mindful eating to the children.
You can do this exercise with any food you like. I’m going to use a pomegranate as an example. The idea is that you are going to eat it slowly, without rushing - really focusing and using all your senses as you eat it.
Start by holding your pomegranate. Notice its colour and shape.
Cut it open. Observe the colours, the seeds, the juices.
Hold it near your nose and observe its smell. Is it sweet?
Scoop out some seeds and put them in your mouth – just hold them there and notice how they feel. Now eat them. How do they taste? And sound? What other sensations do you notice? Are they juicy? Does the flavour change as you chew them? How do they feel going down?
Observe any bodily sensations.
You could do this exercise with any food – here are a few suggestions: fennel, kidney beans, capsicum, apple, fig, mandarin, chocolate, yoghurt, popcorn, cake, berries.
How can we practice mindful eating with our children? In much the same way as we practice it ourselves. Here are a few suggestions:
Do the above activity with them. Make a bit of fun of it. Do it regularly, trying out new foods.
When you sit down to a meal together, encourage them to rate their hunger level (out of 5).
Encourage them to eat slowly, to properly chew mouthfuls, to experience the food. Perhaps take more time with the first mouthful to slowly experience the flavour of the meal like in the exercise above.
Talk about the food. What you like and dislike – its smells, flavours, textures and how it makes you feel.
Encourage them to eat to satisfaction – don’t make them finish what’s on their plate if they are full.
Here are a few more thoughts to extend the experience - perhaps not all technically mindful eating, but can encourage them to be more mindful about food:
Make some bread together, feel the dough as you knead it, smell the yeast, watch the changes as the yeast bubbles & the dough rises, smell the bread fresh out of the oven… then taste it – using the same process mentioned above.
Baking or making honeycomb can be great for mindfully engaging in the whole process.
Involve your children in the whole food process, being engaged in the whole experience – plan out a meal together, go shopping for the ingredients (or pick them out of the garden), prepare the food, observe how it looks and smells – observe how these change as the food cooks. Present it nicely on the plate. This can also involve them and increase their awareness of where the food comes from.
Plant some herbs, veggies; or sprouts – this would be a much more drawn out exercise & allow for a whole series of mindful exercises – observing the feel of the soil, the different sized seeds, watching the seedlings emerge & change as the plant grows; watching the flowers change to fruit, the pods grow; feeling the satisfaction of picking the produce… and then preparing and eating it mindfully. I know when my son picks a basket of salad veggies, he’s much more excited about making a salad and presenting it nicely than if he just uses ingredients from the fridge (even if they were picked out of the same garden and put in the fridge).