Has there ever been a time where you stuffed your face with junk food or fast food on a weekly or daily basis? Maybe you felt you were overweight and unhealthy, addicted to unhealthy snacks, fried fatty foods, and were mindlessly overeating? It is clear that type of eating isn’t healthy. Yet sometimes knowing this isn’t enough to change.
I have a experience with this myself. And the problem wasn’t just what I was eating. It was also was how I ate – emotionally and mindlessly. Like many of our poorer habits, this pattern developed over time. After years of eating to socialize, to relieve stress, to make myself feel better, to satisfy cravings… I knew it was time to start changing my eating habits.
Of course, I realized how hard it would be to change. Eating was just filling so many of my emotional needs, and I was constantly resorting to and reinforcing the same routines without giving conscious thought to their consequences on my body, and on my mind.
I think the biggest change I made was to tune in — not out. I learned how to pay closer attention, to become aware of the details. I became a student of my own diet, and learned to focus on the flavors, the textures, and what I was feeling during and after the meal. I started to focus consciously on my eating urges, and the emotions that triggered them.
The big changes came slowly at first, but when I started paying attention, and actively engaging in mindful eating, everything began falling into place. This became the key habit in my change towards a healthier life, and once I made this change, it became a catalyst for other healthy changes as well. So, what is mindful eating?
The concept of mindful eating has a long history, dating back to Zen philosophies and other forms of Buddhism. It has been adapted in Yoga practices, where it helps to draw the connection between body and mind. And with mindfulness come benefits like reduced stress, weight loss, lower blood pressure, better sleep habits, and an overall more positive, healthful outlook. Id like to focus on some of the core principles regarding mindful eating itself.
1. Mindful Eating is about Paying Attention
Mindful eating is learning to eat in the present moment. Become a connoisseur of every meal you have the privilege of being able to appreciate, no matter how inconsequential or routine it may be in your day to day process. Relearn how to appreciate the subtle tastes and textures of your food, even if it’s something you may have eaten before, try to experience this particular meal as if it’s the first time again. Also, adding new flavors and experimenting with your meals in small ways can help add to this rebirth of your culinary experience.
2- Ask Questions:
- Why do I feel like eating – Are there any emotions triggering the eating?
- What am I eating – Is it healthy for me to consume this or is it junk food?
- Notice the sensation of the food you’re eating – What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? And, of course, taste like?
- Be present both during, and after – How does it make you feel as you’re tasting it? As you digest it? Important: How do you feel after eating it?
- Over or Under eating – Notice if you’re feeling too full or ‘stuffed’? Or is your stomach still empty after eating?
- Emotional response – Do you feel a sense of guilt and shame? Do you experience regret or self-criticism?
The key to mindful eating is to approach every stage in meal intentionally. See and smell the food before eating it. Observe how it is on the plate. When you take your first bite, put down your fork and really feel the experience in your mouth. Move the food around to different parts of your mouth, and experience the different taste sensations. Eat slowly, and you will be satisfied with less food. If you do decide to have junk food, you will be satisfied with less, instead of just scarfing it down without even taking the time to appreciate the experience.
Always keep in mind that like anything else, practice makes perfect. This is simply one more skill that can be improved on and mastered over time to help your overall goals of being healthier and more content. At its core, this really is a form of food meditation, with the goal of deepening your consciousness about what you eat, how you eat, and how that connects to your body and mind.
Learning and developing any new technique or form of thought always has its challenges, and at times it may be difficult not to fall back into more familiar routines and habits. I encourage you to be kind to yourself whenever this occurs, and know that there is always the next meal for you to practice mindful eating again.
While learning to eat mindfully can help us lose weight and develop healthier patterns, honestly the greatest benefit is that you will learn to love food again. And whatever your particular struggle may be, we all know that in the heart of that storm sometimes we forget to appreciate the small things, and I hope that maybe this can help guide your journey back to a place of healthy happy eating, and a healthy happy mind.