Imagine you are working on a project, all engrossed in it. Just another email and I will then take a break, you tell yourself. You hit send, relax a bit in your chair and head straight for that bar of chocolate, a bag of chips or a leftover sandwich from last night.
You take in the first bite and then a second. The first one seemed heavenly. The second less yummy than that but you don’t mind. You put one hand on the mouse and aim to open a new tab for some news in the sports or entertainment industry. The very first title catches your attention and you jump right into it. Perhaps a new scandal among celebrities or your favorite team buying an important player for the next game… you continue eating while reading or watching the video and BAM!
You look down and your hand is empty. Did you really eat all of that? Where did it go? The last traces of it on your fingers confirm that you DID eat it. What sets in next is the dissatisfaction and disappointment. You feel disappointed because you didn’t get to really enjoy it. You feel dissatisfied because you still feel hungry.
This is where mindful eating comes in.
It may seem like a familiar topic but do you really know what it is all about?
Mindful eating involves indulgence of food. It isn’t a form of diet as it doesn’t restrict the individual to abstain from food. It merely urges him/her to enjoy it completely while having it. It’s about savoring every bite and eating slowly. It is about tuning in with your mind and becoming conscious of the food.
We rely on others to tell us how to eat, how about listening to our own bodies?
On a broader spectrum, it involves:
- Eating without distractions
- Looking for hunger cues and stopping when full
- Not giving in to food triggers like boredom, emotions, and habits
- Distinguishing between actual and non-hunger
- Sensing the effects food has on us
- Appreciating your plate
- Indulging all the senses from noticing colors to smelling the food
Why Zen your Food
There are tons of benefits associated with mindful eating. Some of my most favorite ones include:
- Eating ONLY when hunger strikes and END when you feel satiated
- Indulge in all the individual flavors that rest on your palette for a second
- You being to see what junk food is –junk!
- You will feel a kick in your metabolic activity
- A fast metabolism means no extra fat is stored
- You will eventually begin shedding pounds if you are overweight
- You will realize that you previously did a lot of emotional eating
- Social eating will be minimized when you eat without distractions
- It will prevent you from overeating
- You will acknowledge how food affects your energy levels and mood throughout the day
- You will start applying the same to other activities and move towards living a meaningful life
Practicing Mindful Eating –My Journey
On a weekend, I planned to do absolutely NOTHING and just be a couch potato and stuff my face with Cheerios, I got a call from one of my dear friends who insisted that I attend this seminar with her as her partners ditched her the last minute. After trying to convince her why I was not a fit for such fancy aka boring places, (I just didn’t want to go) I decided to tag along as her plus one.
The topic for the seminar was mindfulness and its enormous impacts on our lives and well-being. I had already decided to aim for the furthest seat in the hall so that I can walk out whenever I wanted without being noticed. Spoiler Alert! Nothing of that sort happened. The facilitator kicked off with a few breathing exercises, that, unexpectedly I enjoyed doing. Then he went on to incorporate some research-backed facts to give the audience an idea about his expertise on the subject. He talked about the many ongoing experiments and then further explained how we can use this complete state of awareness to control our bodies and minds. As I grasped more and more of what he was saying, I felt different. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything but simply trying to convince me to try a different approach to how we saw and feel things.
He didn’t want us to step out of the box but rather stay within and appreciate its presence.
Be in the present, indulge all your senses at once, see around yourself with a different perspective.
I know it sounds too theoretical, but just for a minute, drop everything you are doing and just focus on the things happening around you. If you are work, see what others are doing. Sense their bodily movements, make note of their expressions, their talking, their working style and much more. Do you see how many things you miss out on? All the messages they or their bodies are giving away? Can you not make note of these?
You probably did!
The same rules apply to eating. You have to be aware of what you are putting in your mouth and salivate it with a focused mind. You need to take in the experience that comes along with each bite, appreciate all the spices that went into making it what it is and seek pleasure from it.
Most importantly, only eat when you feel like eating!
Steps to Eating Mindfully
Now that you are intrigued by the subject, it is time you practice the art in person. To make the journey easy, I am going to disclose my secret way of eating mindfully. (Please take notes)
- Prioritize meal times. Set up a time for meals every day so that you don’t eat unnecessarily throughout the day
- When sitting down to eat, get rid of any distractions. You can never truly enjoy your food when inattentive. Turn off the screen, put your phone aside and park your car to a side and then begin
- Plate your food. Don’t eat from an ice-cream tub or right from the packet/container.
- Invest time into chewing it down to small chunks. This will leave little work for your stomach to digest it.
- Stop eating when you are 80% full.
- Put your senses to work. Notice the smell, shape, texture, and smell of your food before biting into it.
- When in the mouth, try counting all the different flavors of spices you can.
- Ask yourself what emotion does the food triggers within you. Do you feel pleasure, happiness, guilt, regret or stress?
- Lastly, prepare your meals yourself. The act of cooking improves our relationship with food.
- It takes roughly 20 minutes for your brain to establish that you are either full or not. This means that you need to take your time while eating and not give in to overeating.
Be Mindful –Not Mindless
Be it work problems, maddening traffic on your way back home, conflicts in relationships or worry about finances, there are many situations that contribute to the way we rely on food. A constant state of stress in our lives releases cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies which results in an increased appetite. As a result, we crave for comfy foods such as sugary delights, greasy meats or salty delicacies. This mindless eating can be contributed to a number of factors such as boredom, automatic eating, stress or emotional factors.
Eat for Pleasure
Food deserves to be enjoyed. Most of us are blessed to choose our food. We have the opportunity to eat whatever we want whenever we want. Can we not cherish that?
Eating mindfully is an art that allows you to appreciate and relish your food.
You can indulge all your senses at once and truly feel the texture, consistency, and taste of your meal. Seek guidance from your satiety cues to begin and stop eating. Be aware of your physical hunger needs.