The ancient practice of mindfulness has recently been garnering immense popularity in the area of mental well-being, owing to its promising results and efficacy in promoting better mental and physical health.
The fundamental human ability to be fully aware and conscious of one’s surroundings, the internal and external experiences of the present, and the involvement of the five senses in allowing one to thoroughly grasp “the now” is what is commonly known as mindfulness.
According to the National Institute for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), mindfulness is:
… the awareness that arises through “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmental”— NCBI
While the practice of mindfulness is commonly prescribed by mental health professionals in everyday life, it is less commonly known that it can be applied to the process of eating as well. This article is divided into the following sections:
- What is mindful eating?
- Benefits of mindful eating.
- Mindful eating: Tips and Strategies.
What is Mindful Eating?
Applying the idea of mindfulness — that is being present and aware — to eating, by consciously acknowledging the process of preparing, assembling, and consuming food and allowing yourself the full sensory experience of eating it is called mindful eating.
The National Institute for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) defines mindful eating as:
… an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food. It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein. The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will lose weight. The intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience.— NCBI
Mindful eating requires the involvement of all five human senses of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight, allowing an individual to explore and analyze the range of emotions and physical responses that arise during and after the experience of eating.
The many times that we eat without giving much thought to what goes into our mouth, how it tastes, how much we chew, what responses the food elicits from us is considered to be mindless eating. Normally, in today’s fast-moving times, eating is overlooked as a task to be done on the side of other more pressing matters, resulting in distracted eating.
Mindful eating targets this very convention in order to repair and renew our relationship with food. Instead of eating on auto-pilot mode, mindful eating prompts one to truly comprehend what is being put into our bodies, if and whether it makes us feel good to eat it, if it is something that will promote good physical and mental health, along with fostering a newfound appreciation and gratitude for every single bite of food that we consume.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Whether it’s you, me, or even our kids, we have become habitual of having our meals in a rush, preoccupied with other matters. Our routines have made it almost impossible to allot a particular time for meals.
Shoveling food in our mouths while commuting to work, scarfing it down hurriedly at the work desk, and binging on snacks while watching movies has become more common than eating at the table, peacefully and with focus. In fact, nowadays, eating has become a distraction from other pressing matters in our lives.
Rushed eating disunites the mind from the sensory experience of the body during eating and drinking. Stuffing food into our bodies mindlessly results in a lack of understanding of the needs of our own bodies. We fail to recognize when our brain signals to us that we’re full, we neglect to acknowledge the worth of the food we’re consuming, and often, we eat to serve purposes other than satisfying hunger.
According to research, a lack of basic need satisfaction, stress, anxiety, even boredom is a determinant of stress eating. Such kind of senseless eating in response to emotion can lead to excessive consumption of calories and feeling unsatiated even after eating.
People practice mindful eating not merely for weight loss purposes, but also because of how it rejuvenates the mind and makes one more attuned to his/her body and its needs. Benefits of mindful eating include:
- An increase in awareness of what’s being ingested by you and how it’s being prepared allows you to keep track of the nutrients that you’re consuming and what nutrition your meals generally lack.
- By focusing on the whys and hows of the food you’re consuming, you allow yourself a conscious choice to choose amongst the best of the foods.
- Being aware of the step-by-step process of eating encourages you to relish in the sensory experience, taking in all the signals, exploring what your body really likes, and how it responds to certain foods, allowing you to take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach.
- Being mindful of what you consume promotes a better understanding of the dietary choices you make and the way food affects your mood, enabling you to maintain your food and mood relationship in the future.
- Mindfulness is an effective, evidence-based method to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindful eating allows an individual reprieve from the frenzy of daily life, calming and soothing the mind.
- It encourages you to have control over your eating habits, enabling you to eat only when you really feel hungry.
- It fosters a sentiment of gratitude and appreciation for the food you’re consuming.
Mindful Eating: Tips and Strategies
Practicing mindfulness is much easier than you would assume. It takes time and lots of patience but once you make a habit of it, it really pays off. Fundamentally, mindful eating includes minimizing distractions during mealtime, engaging the five senses, and focusing your attention solely on the process of eating.
Below are easy tips to incorporate mindful eating into a daily routine:
According to this research, distractions can impact the amount, memory, and preference of the food being consumed. The research concludes: ‘When distracted, healthy young adults consumed significantly less food and their memory of the meal was dampened.’
With the exception of company, minimizing distractions is the first thing to do when sitting down to eat a meal. Switch off the TV, turn off the movie, put down that book, and stop listening to music when it’s time to eat. Eating alongside such distractions is mindless and usually results in over-eating, under-eating, or being unable to enjoy your meal.
Engage Your Senses
The process of consuming food directly engages the three senses of sight, touch, and taste. The sense of smell usually accompanies but is often excluded from the immediate experience and isn’t directly involved. Hearing, even less so.
Consciously employing all five senses in the experience of eating is a brilliant way to practice mindful eating. Focus on the sounds of the meal being prepared, the sizzle of butter, the pop of the bottle, the swish of the liquid pouring, and the clanking of cutlery. Smell the aromas wafting through the air, acknowledge the food you’re eating as you plate it, feel the texture, and finally, savor the taste.
Haphazard schedules mean having to eat on the way to work or school. It also means multitasking while you eat. Granted, most of us with a busy routine would resort to eating as per convenience, often even neglecting to eat for a long duration of time, but practicing mindful eating can help you manage your routine as well.
Instead of eating on autopilot in a disorganized manner, prioritize mealtimes by allotting certain times of the day solely for the preparation and consumption of food, working your schedule around it. This will not only allow you to transform your relationship with your food but also encourage you to organize your schedule, freeing you from unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Extend the Practice to Food Preparation
Once you begin to get the hang of it, you can easily extend the practice of mindfulness to meal preparation, eventually extending it to grocery shopping as well. Preparing your own meals is a great way to attune yourself to your needs.
Shop for your meals not driven by emotion. Instead, buy items you really need; items of value and worth, and foods you enjoy as well as foods that your body enjoys. This helps cut down instances of impulse buying — I know we’re all guilty of impulse buying chocolates, candies, and all that junk. Once you start taking interest in your health, you’ll start taking pleasure and contentment in preparing your own meals to feed your body and mind with what it really needs and not what it wants.
Take Your Time
Mindful eating entails taking slow yet steady steps. It also entails eating slowly. The relationship between the brain and the body is kind of slow and they need around 20 minutes to communicate signals. When we’re hurriedly scarfing down food, we don’t allow the brain time to send the stop signal to the stomach, often resulting in over-eating.
Eating slowly, chewing into every bite purposefully, feeling and savoring every bit of it, in short, taking your time while eating can allow the brain and stomach to connect and let you know that you’re full, minimizing the possibility of over-eating, and encouraging a more profound eating experience.
Ruminate and Question Your Bodily Responses
Be contemplative while you eat instead of letting your mind wander into mindless thoughts. Think about how you prepared your meal, what ingredients went into it, Is it nutritious what you’re eating? How does it taste? Do you like the taste? How does your body respond to the food? Does the body seem thrilled to have it? Do you feel sad, happy, pleased, disappointed, guilty while you eat? Do the texture and taste remind you of a memory? Does it make you feel energized?
These are all questions to ask yourself while you eat, observe, acknowledge, and accept your responses, working towards transforming your relationship with the food you’re consuming on a daily basis. This cognizance during mealtimes is a wonderful way to connect your soul to your mind in a world that seldom lets them connect.
- What is mindful eating? In simple terms, it is being aware of the sensory process of eating, of being aware and present all while paying close attention to what you’re putting into your body.
- Mindful eating promotes good mental and physical health.
- Like everything else, the benefits of mindful eating emerge with time, patience, and lots of practice.
- Prioritizing mealtimes, minimizing distractions, and engaging your senses in the experience of eating are brilliant ways to practice mindful eating.