The Art of Mindful Eating
What is your relationship with food? It may sound like an odd question, but consider it for a moment.
Unfortunately, many people have negative associations with food that result in unhealthy food choices, guilt, overeating, poor body image and low self-esteem. Others may not have such negative associations, but they do very little to nurture a positive relationship with their food. They eat mindlessly, making it difficult to truly savor and enjoy the food they eat. Mindful eating can help strengthen your relationship with food.
Mindfulness is the attentive awareness of the present moment. By focusing your attention on the here and now, you can more easily disengage from habitual, unsatisfying and negative behaviors. Mindful eating uses mindfulness practices in the preparation and consumption of food, allowing you to enjoy the positive and nurturing opportunities that food provides.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
- Greater enjoyment of the food you eat
- Reduced overeating
- Healthier food choices
- Greater control over your diet
- Easier weight loss
- A feeling of satisfaction during and after eating
- Improved digestion
- Increased body awareness
The 8 essential steps to mindful eating:
1. Make time to eat
In our fast paced society we are often rushed and eat on the go. That prevents us from appreciating our food. Making time to focus on what and how we eat is the most important step to mindful eating. Set aside time to enjoy your meal.
2. Find an appropriate place to eat
It’s important to eat in a place that allows you to focus on your food. Avoid eating in your car, in front of the television or anywhere else that will distract you from your meal. A dinner table is the perfect, dedicated place to practice mindful eating. As you become more comfortable with mindful eating you can practice it elsewhere, such as at a picnic, in a restaurant, or even at a food court table.
3. Acknowledge your food
Before eating, take the time to acknowledge your food. This will mean something different to every person. Perhaps you will choose to say grace, thank Mother Nature, or simply offer a silent word of gratitude to the farmer who cultivated your food. This acknowledgement is not simply an opportunity to give thanks. It also allows you to disengage from what you were doing and turn your focus to the food and experience before you.
4. One bite at a time
As you eat, savor one bite at a time. Take a bite of your meal and place your cutlery down so you can focus on the act of eating. Don’t rush your meal. Chew. Every morsel of food has something to offer, so take time and experience it to the fullest.
5. Use all of your senses
Eating is a very sensual experience. Enjoy it. As you eat, notice the color, texture, taste, smell and even the sound of every bite. Eating something as simple as an apple can become a truly wonderful experience when you admire the bright color, hear the crunch and taste the tart and sweet flavors mixing in your mouth. If you take the opportunity to truly savor the natural flavors of food, you’ll realize that there is no need to smother your meals in sauces and cheese.
6. Listen to your body
Notice how your body reacts to the food you eat, not just while you’re eating, but afterwards. Your body craves nourishing food and will tell you when food is or isn’t good for you. The sight, smell or taste may not always alert you to foods that are unhealthy, but your body never lies. Consider how you feel after eating a salad or piece of fresh fruit. Now compare that to the way you feel after eating a Big Mac and fries. Use those experiences to guide your food choices. I believe that listening to your body is the most important step in gaining control over your diet and achieving healthy weight loss.
7. Practice hara hachi bunme
Hara hachi bunme is an old Japanese saying that instructs people to stop eating when 80 percent full. It takes time for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. It’s no surprise then that people who devour their meals quickly are habitual overeaters. This Japanese saying is a reminder that you should not simply eat what is available or on your plate, but that you should remain mindful of what you’re eating and listen to your body.
8. Show appreciation for your food
Before finishing your meal, take a moment to appreciate the food you’ve just eaten. Recall your dining experience and notice how you feel. If you’ve practiced mindful eating, chances are you feel satisfied and nourished, not bloated or sick.
More tips for mindful eating:
1. One meal at a time
Poor eating habits are difficult to change, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. At first, choose one meal a day and commit to mindful eating. As you become more comfortable with the practice, start to practice mindful eating throughout your entire day.
2. Practice mindful food preparation
Extend your mindfulness practice to food preparation. Be present and aware when preparing your meals, whether you’re creating a culinary masterpiece or simply pouring a box of cereal. Feel the knife in your hand, listen to the sound of food as it simmers on the stove and notice the color of your ingredients. This mindful approach will make you more familiar with your food and aware where it comes from. Your choice of what to eat, healthy or otherwise, begins at preparation, not when you begin eating.
Check out these tips for healthy home cooking.
3. Dine with family and friends
Mindful eating doesn’t mean dining alone. Enjoy your meals with family and friends. You can still practice mindful eating, and as an added bonus, dining together will strengthen your relationships.
Good or bad, acknowledged or ignored, we all have a relationship with the food we eat. Use this guide to get started and enjoy your food like never before, by practicing the art of mindful eating.
Want to learn more about mindful eating? The Centre for Mindful Eating is a forum for professionals across all disciplines interested in developing, deepening and understanding the value and importance of mindful eating.