Sunday, 18 January 2015

What is mindful eating?

I talk a lot about mindful eating and how it can help you manage your weight, 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. Not because it is hard to do but because it takes time, inner reflection and lots of practice.

Being a mindful eater means noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
Noticing these things means deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself. In your body means in your heart and mind such as any emotions or thoughts you may be having- "I am stressed" or "I feel fat". As well as outside yourself, in your surroundings- like at your desk with emails coming in every 2 minutes or alone in the kitchen with everyone gone to bed.

Noticing how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like anxiety influence our eating is important. 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?

One other very important aspect of mindfulness is being aware of all these things without criticising or judging yourself. For example, you are feeling stressed at your desk at work and want to eat your lunch but it's only 10am and you are not hungry. Rather than judging yourself and thinking:"what is wrong with me? I just had breakfast! How am I supposed to get through the day if all I want to do it eat!?", try being more aware of the situation- "I am feeling stressed which usually pushes me to eat. Also, my stress is mounting with the constant chiming of emails. What I need to do is decrease my stress and food won't do that...but a small walk to the bathrooms might help me relax".

Eating mindfully can sound a bit abstract and practicing concrete activities to increase mindfulness can help you get started. Gradually start to become more mindful of when, how and what you eat as well as what influences you to eat. Start by dedicating one meal a week or a day to eating more slowly and more attentively. Try these tips:

-Set a timer to 20 minutes and take the whole time to eat a normal sized meal.
-Try eating the meal with your non dominant hand to slow you down. You can also use chopsticks to do this.
-Eat in silence for 5 minutes and think about how your food was grown, produced, prepared and cooked.
-Take small bites and chew well.
-Try to guess all the spices and herbs used in the dish.
-Notice how the crunchy food feels between your teeth or the silky food feels on your tongue.
-Is the food as good or tasty as you expected?

The next few steps to take is to become more aware of your hunger signals (Am I hungry? and if so, how hungry?), fullness signals and triggers that may influence your appetite or desire to eat.

Reading through a book, using a workbook or talking to a registered dietitian about mindful eating can be very helpful in getting started or to help maintain mindfulness. You can read more about mindful eat and intuitive eating in past blogs here, here, here  and here (you can also search my blog for posts related to mindful and intuitive eating).
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