A Beginners Guide to Eating Mindfully
Okay, so you want to eat mindfully.
It’s not easy, so you will need to ramp up your motivation.
Here is a list of the benefits of mindful eating that I have experienced.
- Enjoying your food more. Food is more than just fuel. It can be pure bliss. Eating mindfully will enhance the whole experience as you engage all your senses.
- Eating less. According to nutrition expert Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, it takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. If you take your time, you will be satisfied after finishing a smaller portion.
- Eating healthier. Reflecting on what you are eating will not only affect the quantity of food that goes into your mouth but will naturally raise questions its quality. As a result, you may decide to focus on quality and choose locally sourced, fresher food over pre-packed, processed meals
- More mindfulness in general. Eating mindfully as a habit will make it easier for you to introduce mindfulness to other areas of your life. Result: more time in the present moment enjoying what you are doing and less time lost in a rabbit hole of thought about a future that may or may not happen.
HOW TO EAT MINDFULLY
If you wanted to work with focus, you would choose a quiet environment, free of distractions (especially mobile and internet), with an uncluttered work area. You would also have a defined period of time to work in.
Mindful eating is exactly the same. You should have a clear table, ideally with nothing in front of you* or near to you except your food. You should be alone and the room should be quiet or with soothing music like this. You should allow up to twenty minutes to eat your meal.
*I allow myself to have a notebook and pen nearby in case inspiration strikes as it tends to do when I am focusing on other things!
Engage the food with all five senses.
Before tasting a wine, an expert will look at the colour as well as taking a hefty sniff. Not all food will thrill you with its tones and aromas as a good wine might, but if you can, why not allow yourself the sheer pleasure of enjoying the sight and smells you have before you.
Sight: Look at the food for a few seconds. The colours. The different shapes. The textures.
Smell: Smell the food for a few seconds. Identify any different aromas. You may find a memory is triggered. Observe this thought, smile and continue.
Important: before you dive into the food, anxious to get to the tasting part, pause.
Consider these questions:
Where you are going to start? Some people like to eat all the similar food together, others prefer to mix flavours and textures. Some like to dive straight into their favourite item on the plate, others like to save the best until last. What is your system of eating?
How much are you going to put on your fork or in your spoon?
Okay — get stuck in!
Taste, touch, hearing: Your first bite. Bite is a better word than mouthful as you don’t really want your mouth full at all.
As soon as the food enters your mouth you should put down your fork. I repeat. Put down your fork.
While you are chewing, you also may find it helpful to clasp your hands together as you chew and ruminate. Keep off that fork!
You may wish to consider the following.
What sound does the food make as you chew it and move it around the mouth?
Where does the food go? To the left? To the right? The bottom of the mouth or the top?
How does the food feel in the mouth? Can you feel the shapes that you noticed on the plate?
Where do you taste the food first? Which part of your tongue seeks out the flavours?
Which food had the strongest flavour? The most pleasant?
Do you chew fast or slowly? Do you chew all the food before swallowing?
Considering these questions will help you keep focused on the food. When you have finished chewing and swallowing, prepare the next bite.
If you find yourself rushing or feeling anxious be aware of the thought, smile and return to focusing on the food.
If you find your mind wandering, worrying, projecting into the future, come back to the physical sensations of eating.
If your mind gives you a gift, a positive insight or idea, note it down and return to the food.
If we get lost in thought there is a danger that we will return to mechanical eating which often turns into shovelling food into our mouths, swallowing half chewed food and rushing to finish.
It is natural that thoughts will arise, don’t judge the thoughts just be aware of them and return to the practise of eating and the questions I have written above.
It sound simple but it requires practice. It will get easier. Just remember that you are learning to control your attention not be a slave to your wandering mind. If nothing else you will start to appreciate the food that you eat every day.
I’d love to hear how you got on and any challenges you faced. I’ll post a follow up on how to handle specific challenges later in the year.
Until then, happy healthy mindful eating.
If you liked this piece and are interested in healthy habits for a productive and purposeful life, be sure to follow me on Medium.
If you want to follow my 5 day experiment with Mindful Eating, go here for Day 1.
If you want to read what I learned from the experiment, head here.