Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment both internally and externally and stems from Buddhism. It is very popular at the moment, if you want to find out more look at the NHS website which has an excellent summary specifically in relation to mental health.
We have turned into a society of doers and can easily spend our days rushing around, never being in the moment. I think that’s why mindfulness is so popular, we are all so over stimulated either by busyness or technology. Mindfulness is like going back to basics and just checking in with how you are feeling and being in the present.
So how does mindfulness relate to food? Let me give you an example:
I’m not really keen on biscuits, does this stop me from eating them? No! Ridiculous isn’t it? They are a high calorie food with not much nutritional value. So why do I eat them? Well, if I’m at work and there are some biscuits, I have one. After church on a Sunday, I always have one. It may sound daft but I’m just following a social norm, doing what everyone else is doing and eating without thinking. What I am not being is mindful. If I stopped for even 5 seconds and thought about it I wouldn’t eat one and wouldn’t feel as if I’d missed out. Because I don’t even like them that much! Can you relate to that?
Now, when my youngest child was breastfeeding I had to cut out all dairy as he had a cow’s milk protein allergy. I couldn’t just grab available food like I had been doing. Often it was such a hassle to find out whether things contained cow’s milk protein that I just didn’t bother eat them. I’m not going to lie, for that year I did feel like I missed out, it was tough! But the greatest gift I learned was mindful eating.
Exercise in mindfulness
Take a chocolate button or square of chocolate. You’d normally eat that and a few others in 2 seconds right? Well, put it on a table in front of you and look at it. Take your time, appreciate it’s shape and colour. Have you ever actually looked at a chocolate button or square of chocolate before? Try to do this for 20 seconds.
Now, pick it up and smell it. What does it smell like? Is it appealing? How does it feel? Again, do this for at least 20 seconds.
Now you can put it on your tongue and shut your eyes but DON’T chew! Let it sit on your tongue and melt. Appreciate the taste and texture, notice how it makes you feel. Let the chocolate fill your mouth and appreciate it for as long as you can. Did you realise that such a small amount of chocolate could be so enjoyable and last so long?
This exercise just highlights how being aware of every moment of eating something completely changes your experience.
Mindful eating can be a very useful tool, especially if you have been trying to lose weight or if you have been yo-yo dieting for a while. Diets do not work in the long term and it is better to make adjustments to your way of life on the whole rather than denying yourself. Mindful eating can help you enjoy your food yet reduce your portion sizes and be aware when you’ve eaten enough.
How to be a mindful eater
- Think before you eat. Before reaching into your cupboard or opening the fridge take 10 seconds and do a body scan. Just take stock and work out how you are feeling. Are you hungry or are you thirsty, tired, bored or procrastinating? When did you last eat? Is it understandable that you should be hungry?
- Think about what you are going to eat. If you are indeed hungry think about your choices. It might be useful here if you have a tendency to grab unhealthy foods to have planned ahead, see my post on meal planning . Don’t eat food just because it is there. Don’t eat things that you are not keen on. Try to make sensible decisions. If you want a piece of chocolate cake, that’s fine but ensure you’re in control of that decision making.
- Think about how much you are going to eat. Before you serve yourself a portion of food consider how much you need and what proportions would be suitable. For example is a whole pizza necessary or can you put half in the fridge for tomorrow and fill up your plate with salad?
- Enjoy every mouthful. Try to use all your senses when you eat as depicted in the example above and take your time. This improves your enjoyment of food and makes you feel satisfied sooner.
- Stop when you feel full. Be aware of how your whole body is feeling. Every few mouthfuls reassess and stop when you feel full. Remember, it does not matter if you do not eat everything. You can always put any leftovers in the fridge.