Food, nutrition, body image, and self-acceptance are intricately and sometimes complexly intertwined. Our busy lifestyles can blur our relationship with food. We are often so hurried that breakfast gets skipped or eaten on the way to work, lunch disappears in front of a computer screen, and we are lucky if dinner is at a real table.
Does this sound familiar to you? You’re not alone! We call this mindless eating. Mindless eating is that bag of chips that is gone before you know it, or that habit of eating in front of the TV; it is scrolling through your phone instead of tasting your food. Mindless eating is autopilot mode, without much conscious attention to the experience of eating.
The practice of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without getting attached to passing thoughts or judgments. Many people find it helpful to focus on their breath while practicing mindfulness, as a way to quiet their mind and let go of their internal dialogue. When your mind starts to wander, bring your attention to what your breath is doing. Bring your attention back to the present moment. You can practice mindfulness while you are waiting in line at the store, stuck in traffic, on a nature walk, or playing with your children.
In a nutshell, mindfulness is…
“observation with judgment suspended”.
Judgment helps to keep us safe and make informed decisions, however, if we are constantly judging the present experience, how can we enjoy the present experience?
Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Mindless eaters often do not get the maximum enjoyment out of their food, simply because they are distracted. In turn, this often leads to overeating and disregarding the body’s natural fullness cues. Beginning a mindful eating practice may help you develop a more healthy relationship with food, better identify hunger and fullness cues, and enjoy your food more.
Research shows that mindful eating…
- Increases self-compassion and the ability to accept one’s body shape and size, and promotes lower self-criticism.
- Reduces emotional eating
- May help reduce binge eating episodes and behaviors
Sounds like a win-win, right? Here’s how to begin:
At your next meal, sit down at the table. Take 5 deep breaths before you begin eating. Check in with how you are feeling and rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. Use all five senses to enjoy your meal, and put the fork down between each bite. Eat without distractions, and try to let go of any self-judgments that arise. Remember that mindfulness is a ‘practice’, not a perfect; it may be difficult at first, but stick with it to see how it affects your relationship with food and yourself. If a whole mindful meal is not in the cards for you, try to begin each meal with a mindful bite, to set the tone for your eating experience.
Below is a mindful eating exercise to get you started. Try it with a friend or family member to make it a little more fun!