How does Mindful Eating work?
Of course what you eat is important. The best way to fuel your body is to cook everything from scratch, include as many vegetables as you can (especially leafy greens) and minimise processed food and sugars. We all know what we should and should not be eating and hopefully you are striving to fuel your body with the best nutrition you can. Whatever you eat, it’s also extremely important that you eat it in the right way!
Mindful eating means being consciously aware of everything that you are eating, taking time to chew and enjoy your food and becoming consciously aware of your hunger levels.
All too often, people are eating on the go: snacking while standing in the kitchen, eating at the desk at work, popping mouthfuls of food while browsing the fridge all without registering we are actually eating! Just as it’s easy to eat an entire bucket of popcorn during a film without noticing (think of all the calories you haven’t had time to enjoy), many people are consuming all of their meals in this robotic, unconscious way without noticing how the food tastes or how it makes them feel.
Here’s the cool thing – when you eat mindfully you notice that your food tastes better when you are actually hungry and gets less enjoyable as you become more full. Therefore your body makes it easier for you to stop eating rather than carry on. Also, the foods that your body actually needs at that time are more enjoyable. For example, when trying to decide what to have for lunch do you ever find yourself imagining eating a series of different dishes to see which appeals most? Or, have you ever decided to splurge on a big slice of chocolate cake only to find that you didn’t really enjoy it half as much as you thought you would? I’m not talking about feeling guilty for eating it, but that it didn’t actually taste as enjoyable because it wasn’t the fuel your body really needed.
3 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating
It’s impossible to eat mindfully if you are never aware of when you are hungry. You might be someone who feels hungry all the time, or indeed never feels hungry (you are probably stuck in the sympathetic nervous system state) but actually when you start to really tune into your hunger signals we all have them it’s just some are more subtle than for others.
It helps to practice tuning into your body a few times a day and rating yourself on 0-10 (10 being so full you could be sick and 0 being so hungry you could eat a horse). Practice tuning in and giving your hunger a number. Ideally, you want to eat when you are between 3-4 hungry, and stop when it reaches around 6. It takes time to get used to this method as you will find it probably changes your eating habits a lot. You may find yourself having several smaller meals as a result, which is fine.
The important thing to remember is that you can always go back and get more food if you become hungry again soon but don’t be tempted to over-fill yourself, trust in the signals your body gives you.
TOP TIP – if you are feeling hungry a lot of the time it could very well be thirst! A great rule is to answer your first pangs of hunger with a glass of water and if you’re still hungry 10 minutes later, then eat!
This is something you will have to really be strict with yourself about and trust me it’s worth doing. The rules of mindful eating means that you sit at a table or quiet space to enjoy your meal (if this gets you leaving the office on your lunch break, even better). There should be no books, radio or T.V. to distract you while you eat. If you can i.e. it’s not going to be terribly anti-social try not to get engaged in conversation either, but use the mealtime to tune into your body and disconnect from the outside world.
Remember – the whole purpose of being mindful is to allow you to focus fully and consciously on what you are doing. This means that creating the right environment is vital to your success. A busy, stressful and distracting environment will make it impossible for you to do step 3. If you’re feeling like this might be impossible for you, please push yourself to create the right atmosphere and give it a try – once you have, you will suddenly become quite demanding about your eating space and feel cheated every time you have to rush through a meal!
TOP TIP – for extra weight loss you can also use the mind trick of eating from a side plate instead of a large dinner plate and therefore tricking your mind into thinking you’re eating more than you actually are.
The secret to mindful eating is to eat slowly, consciously chewing and enjoying every mouthful (this is why you can’t do it while simultaneously emailing at work). Notice how your food tastes and smells and put your knife and fork down between bites so that you can really focus. Tune into your body and assess where you are on the hunger scale so you know when to stop eating.
This is when you will start to notice how the tastiness of your food reduces as your stomach becomes more full. You will also start to realise how much extra food you were unconsciously eating because you were missing your body’s subtle signals that it was becoming full.
If you want to take the concept of conscious eating one step further, some people find it useful to keep a diary of their hunger levels both before and after their meal, what they ate, how long it took and also to note their mood e.g. happy, bored, tired etc. Taking this approach can help you to see emotional patterns that lead to over-eating.
TOP TIP – get out a stopwatch and time yourself while you eat. Try to take at least 20 minutes to eat your meal!
Take it further
Want to know more about how to be mindful in other parts of your life? Read our blog with 7 simple steps to being mindful every day