Eating is a healthy, pleasurable and natural activity for satisfying our hunger.
However, because we live in a fast paced, diet-obsessed world surrounded with a culture that has an abundance of food, eating has become to a large degree mindless, guilt-inducing and consuming.
Mindful eating is a gentle and simple way of helping many people resolve a troubled, love-hate relationship with food. Mindfully eating is eating with awareness; we notice our food, we enjoy food and we understand more fully the effects food has on our bodies.
What Will Eating Mindfully Help With?
- As you begin to practice mindfully eating, you will learn to recognise more easily your non-hunger triggers for eating.
- Mindful eating helps prepare your body for digestion. By being more conscious as you eat, instead of multi-tasking, you will actually taste your food and this allows your brain to send the appropriate messages to your digestive system to begin its work.
- You will begin to fulfil your other needs in more effective ways than eating. This is of most benefit during those food go-to times when we feel more inclined to head to the snack cupboard rather than perhaps out for a walk.
- Eating mindfully allows you to choose your food for nourishment. As you begin to tune in to and listen to your body, you begin to consciously choose to feed yourself healthier, energising foods.
- The result is that you will feel less guilty about food, as there is less of an internal battle going on and you can now eat with enjoyment and optimal satisfaction.
Am I hungry?
Many people who struggle with food react mindlessly to triggers, which are those habitual thoughts and feelings that are unrecognized or unexamined. Reacting and repeating past eating actions again and again leads us to feel powerless to change the way we eat. Mindfulness increases an awareness of our bodies and our emotions; our feelings and eating patterns, helping us feel less self-judgemental or guilty.
We feel more in control when we are able to ask ourselves “Am I hungry?” Being mindful creates a ‘pause’ or a space between your triggers and actions so that you are able to react more positively towards food and ultimately for the good of your whole wellbeing.
Take a few moments to ask yourself…
Why do I eat?
Or in other words, what is driving my eating habits at any given time?
Our bodies need nourishment and fuel to function, to be healthy physically, emotionally and mentally. Eating is also linked to our emotions, such as happiness or sadness, boredom or even used as a temporary distraction. For many people their eating habits are controlling their lives rather than being instinctive. Learning to be more mindful of our food helps us understand the reasons why we habitually eat. We are then able to start changing those well-worn neural pathways, releasing those eating restrictions by letting controlling food thought processes go.
So, begin to take charge rather than trying to stay in control or feeling like you are spiralling out of control. You have the freedom and flexibility to mindfully ‘food fuel’ yourself the way you really want to. You have, naturally inside of you, a mindful ability to effortlessly manage your eating in this way. It is about reconnecting to your body and believing that you can do it!
The Body Scan is a great way of having a little look at and connecting with how your body feels. Our bodies are working with our minds as a whole and it is so easy to forget this, as we tend to dislocate our own bodies with what we really want and perceive as bodily perfection. As we begin to connect with our bodies we become more aware, accepting and grateful for how they are working for us and how we can then look after them more effectively and in a more ‘kindful’ way.
Life’s Unhelpful Eating Moments…
Mindful eating is about awareness, not judgement. We are human and there are times when having that cupcake on some level may help us feel a little better. Being aware of how we are feeling (i.e. happiness or sadness, tiredness or loneliness,) before, after or as we eat these foods is being mindful. Being gentle on ourselves when we cave in for fries rather than new potatoes, or the tiramisu rather than the fruit salad is in many ways more important to our well-being than punishing ourselves as we slide down the slippery slope of guilt.
When we are mindful we are less self-critical of our giving in or berating ourselves for the lack of strength of will. We are more able to understand why it was or what the triggers were for us to eat; what we did rather than choosing a healthier alternative without judgement or pressurizing ourselves to eat perfectly.
A helpful practice, originally created for children, devised by Dr Christopher Willard called HALT is a useful acronym to use for looking at how we are feeling.
H – Am I feeling hungry?
A – Am I feeling angry?
L – Am I feeling lonely?
T – Am I feeling tired?
As a gentle starting place I would recommend writing it on a post it note on the fridge door or at your desk as a nudge that food may not always be the antidote to how you are feeling.
Listening to Your Body
Endless dieting is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. It is time consuming, energy consuming and it can be expensive.
So, why don’t we trust that we can learn to rebuild and restore our own instinctive eating habits and become our own expert on meeting our own eating needs for our wonderful hardworking bodies?
Developing this awareness through helping yourself by becoming more mindful is an opportunity to meet your true needs more effectively. Who knows your body better than you? How good would it be for you to re-establish eating patterns based on physical hunger as your primary cue for eating rather than your emotions and habitual eating thought processes taking charge?
This is the first step to…
Taking Back Control of Your Life!
Food can be one of the most pleasurable experiences in our lives, but to many it is laden with guilt and deprivation. Relearning to recognize and respond more mindfully to hunger helps us begin to see whether or not there are other needs you’ve been trying to satisfy by eating.
Mindful eating can help you be more aware and learn to meet those needs in positive and constructive ways so food can serve its proper function – to nourish you and fuel a fulfilling life.
Try this fun Mindfulness Eating Exercise, which can be done with a partner, children or as a family perhaps during a meal once a week or month. This eating experiment is wonderful at helping us reconnect to our senses that are sparked as we prepare and eat our food.
As you learn to manage your eating by listening to your instincts, you’ll begin to trust your ability to take charge of other areas of your life as well. When you are in charge, instead of trying to stay in control, you’ll feel more motivated to make certain eating and activity choices – not because you have to, but because you really want to.
Little by little you will free yourself from your focus on food and weight and discover new tools and energy for a more balanced satisfying and vibrant life.
Natasha is an experienced mindfulness teacher and coach, based in Surrey. She teaches mindfulness to adults and children suffering from anxiety, eating disorders, cancer, workplace stress and exam pressure.
Contact: 07733 033726