No one can glance at any social media feed without being bombarded with (bad) advice on how to lose weight or be healthy or shape up. There IS an alternative to all that diet & clean eating crazy speak: Mindful Eating.
It can be a hard to understand concept since it includes some abstract ideas and questions much about the messages around food that we’ve been taught all our lives.
If you’d like to start to understand what Mindful Eating is and how it can help you and (perhaps more importantly) how you can start practicing it today, read on!
You’ve probably heard that mindful eating can help you avoid weight yoyoing, reduce any disordered eating and help repair your relationship with food.
Understanding what mindful eating is and how to practice it is the challenging part. This is mainly because it requires inner reflection, paying attention and lots of practice.
Being a mindful eater means much more than just eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.
Most people have heard the advice to “stop when you are full” and roll their eyes because, let’s be honest, you’ve probably tried it and without the proper support, it may not have worked for you. For a greater chance of actually stopping when you are full, there are a few things to practice and to take into account.
Practicing things like being able to recognize when you are full, estimating how much food you need, letting go of judgement about your body & food and learning to trust your instincts are a few key elements.
Going beyond the “eat when hungry and stop when full”, mindful eating includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; eating more slowly; understanding how distractions like TV or reading are effecting your eating and enjoyment; hearing hunger and fullness cues and working to eliminate guilt and anxiety about food. Noticing these things means deliberately paying attention and being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself.
What is happening “inside” yourself includes what is going through your mind such as any emotions or thoughts you may be having- “I am stressed” or “I feel fat”. Mindfulness includes paying attention to the experience in our body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? (in the head or in the stomach?) What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?
What is happening “outside” yourself means your surroundings. Things like where are you physically: sitting or standing? at your desk with emails coming in every 2 minutes? or alone in the kitchen with everyone gone to bed?
As well as who you are with: Compassionate people who make you feel confident? Or among people who judge your eating and weight?
The idea is to learn how these thoughts, emotions and environment affects what, how and how much we eat. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, lets stick to practicing observing.
Eating mindfully can sound a bit abstract and practicing concrete activities to increase mindfulness can help you get started. To start becoming more mindful of when, how and what you eat as well as what influences you to eat, there are hands on exercises you can practice. Let’s start with this exercise:
Before eating, take a minute to simply observe your environment (outside your body) and your thoughts, emotions and how you physically feel (inside your body):
Describe your surroundings: are you at your desk? In a stressful meeting or just came out of a stressful meeting? Rushing around in the car and feel you have no time to eat?
Describe your body’s position: at the table and discussing stressful news? Standing up at the counter? Sitting in front of the tv? Hunched over your computer with your jaw clenched and tongue on the roof of your mouth?
Describe your thoughts: “I am starving but have no time to eat!”, “Hungry but feel I should ignore it in order to lose weight”, “I’m feeling guilty about what I ate for breakfast”, having an internal battle over whether you should eat that donut.
Describe your feelings in this moment: are you stressed? Anxious? Happy? Sad? Tired?
The goal is only to observe. Take notice. Pay attention more to your surrounding and your body and mind. This is invaluable for later, when trying to find patterns or barriers to eating mindfully.