Eating is such a critical and fueling action. Yet so many of us eat while we are watching TV, talking to others, driving, scrolling on social media, etc. When we are distracted like this we are doing a disservice to our bodies, our mind, and our digestive system. It is an unconscious way to eat.
An alternative approach to this is mindful eating, which is essentially eating with intention. It is using our senses (touch, smell, taste) in choosing to consume food that nourishes our body. It is making good food choices to satisfy our REAL cravings. It is being in the present moment. Studies have shown that mindful eating reduces psychological and physiological distress such as stress, anxiety, depression and eating disorders such as binge-eating, under eating, and loss of appetite. Our food has a direct link to our mood so when we take the time out to be fully present we create a space for happiness and fulfillment. ‘Happy food, happy mood’ goes a long when it comes to our emotional, physical and mental spaces.
In thinking about where we begin with incorporating mindfulness into our eating habits, a food journal is an excellent place to start. A food journal aims to help you track what you eat and how it makes you feel. Checking in with yourself is going to help you analyze what your food is actually doing to your mood, your energy level, and your body. From personal experience, doing this taught me which foods gave me the most energy for my job, for my gym workouts, throughout the day, etc.
In your journal you want to ask yourself these questions:
Did this meal make me feel energized or depleted? Was I really hungry or was I just craving? Am I just craving sweets or am I really craving love? Or a hug? Or a phone call? Do I really want something salty or am I craving adventure? Or something new?
When you start paying attention to your cravings you can learn a lot about yourself. I only craved meat when I had a very long, annoying day. It felt like a personal treat to myself. So as soon as I noticed that, I switched things up a bit and started doing other things like take a bath, writing in my journal, or meditating to process my emotions lingering from that day. The more I processed, the less I felt the desperate craving to eat something heavy and unhealthy. I was no longer using food to satisfy an emotion. Your cravings say a lot about what’s going on with your life. Listen to them and figure out what they’re trying to say to you. Maybe you do need more romance in your life. Maybe you need to feel more fulfilled at your job. Maybe you need to talk to an old friend. Eating habits provide us with emotional information, not for us to eat our feelings, but instead to investigate and take care of them in others ways.
Our responses to food is how our bodies communicate with us. We experience food more intensely and fully when we eat mindfully. When I focus in on my food by turning off the TV and getting off my phone my food tastes a lot better. I can taste all of the spices and really focus on the texture and colors of the food. You’ll also to notice how hungry you actually are. When I eat and watch TV, I tend to eat more because I’m not really paying attention to the amount. Sometimes we just eat because the food taste so good and it’s there, which is adding on unnecessary calories that we will soon have to deal with later.
Another way to stay more present when you’re eating is to express gratitude before and after your meal. Just take a moment to say thank you for what you’re about to eat. When I practice this I become more aware of the privilege it is to have a meal. I’m able to pay attention to everything the food has to offer me from smell to taste to texture.
Being present while you eat has a ton of benefits. Try it. For one meal a day put down your phone and truly focus on the meal in front of you. Notice the difference in how you feel. Just after a few weeks of doing this I started looking forward to my ME time with MY food. It became a ritual.
Being more mindful when you eat may also encourage you to be more mindful in other areas of your life. Since changing my eating habits, my conversations with people have been a lot more fruitful, and my anxiety has minimized because of my increased presence. Think about it like this: When you have a conversation with someone that you like and they’re fully paying attention when you speak, they’re looking at your and they’re engaged, how does that make you feel? Good, right? Now your food is here to nourish you too. So pay a little more attention to it. Give it the time it deserves so it can give you what you deserve: nutrients, energy, more life.
In Summary, here are a few steps to eating more mindfully:
Buying foods that give you energy. When food shopping think: does this have the nutrients my body needs? Or is this just a craving to satisfy an emotion?
Home Cooking: taking out the time to prepare your own meals. Cooking with vitamin L (love) makes all the difference when it comes to curving our cravings. You spend less time depending on food to make you feel good.
Do not make a habit of waiting until you’re completely starving and hungry to eat. This is where we tend to make impulsive, unhealthy, cheap decisions. Think about what you want to eat ahead of time.
Give thanks to your food before and after your meal.
Be. present. with. your. food. Turn off the TV, put down your food and pay attention to what you’re eating. This is your you time with your food so look at your food, be able to smell and fully taste your food.
Take your time with food and chew thoroughly. Do not rush or speed through meals. This makes each eating experience even more fulfilling and gratifying.
The outside world has its own rhythm that’s sometimes too fast to keep up with but intentional eating allows you to slow down that time, and slow down your life by getting more intune with what’s going on in your inside world. When you eat mindfully, you are creating a harmonious relationship between yourself and food. Just remember that eating is a multifaceted experience and when we focus on being intentional we are being good to our emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing.
What do you do to stay mindful? And how do you feel when you eat mindfully? Share your thoughts in the comments below!