What is Mindful Eating ?
I came to Mindful Eating when I began seeking a way to curb the stress and anxiety I experienced on a daily basis. Part of my Mindfulness teacher training was to explore and understand my relationship to all things, but the one that hooked me the most was the way I chose to eat.
I came to understand that there were many times when I stuffed my face with junk food and fast food on a daily basis. I was overweight and unhealthy, addicted to snacks and sugary high carb foods, and would mindlessly overeat, sometimes bingeing in a food frenzy.
This wasn’t a healthy way of eating. What I ate (junk) was a big part of it, but just as big a part was how I ate — emotionally and mindlessly. These bad eating habits built up over time, after years of eating to socialize, to relieve stress, to make myself feel better, to satisfy cravings. Yet all it did was take it’s toll on my physical and mental well being.
When I finally started changing my eating habits, I realized how bad things were. I realized how hard it was to change, simply because eating was filling so many needs, many of which were emotional, a way of diverting myself from painful thoughts and feelings, indeed I ate mostly without thinking, feeling or tasting.
The biggest change I made was learning to pay attention to how and when I ate, not just what I ate, the textures and flavours, how it made me feel during and after eating. I paid attention to my eating urges, or cravings for food when I wasn’t physically hungry and then to the emotions that triggered the eating.
The changes came slowly, but paying attention turned out to be the key habit change. Once I made this change, other changes finally happened, after years of trying.
Where does Mindful Eating come from ?
I certainly didn’t invent mindful eating, but it has helped me tremendously. There is a growing field of people adopting the approach and writing about it (I’d recommend Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung), and a growing body of research showing the benefits
There are a variety of approaches to mindful eating, some rooted in Zen and other forms of Buddhism, others tied to yoga. I take a very simple approach, and that’s what I mainly talk about in the Mindful Eating course I facilitate.
Simply put, my approach to mindful eating is learning to pay attention. Instead of eating mindlessly, putting food into your mouth almost unconsciously, not really tasting the food you’re eating and not noticing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I encourage you to slow things down and invite you to taste every mouthful, we also cover other topics related to unhelpful eating patterns and thoughts about food.
You learn to pay attention to:
- Why you feel like eating, and what emotions or needs might be triggering the eating.
- What you’re eating, and whether it is healthy or not.
- The look, smell, taste, feel of the food you’re eating.
- How it makes you feel as you taste it, as you digest it, and throughout the day.
- How full (or sated) you are before, during and after eating.
- Your emotions during and after eating.
- Where the food came from, who might have grown it, how much it might have suffered before it was killed, whether it was grown organically, how much it was processed, how much it was fried or overcooked, etc.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
The benefits of eating mindfully are amazing, and it’s important to know these benefits as you consider the practice.
I’m going to go over just a handful of the most important benefits, though as you learn the practice I’m sure you’ll find many more. Many of these are from personal experience, but many of them are supported by research.
My favourite benefits:
- You learn to eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re sated.
- You learn to really taste food, and to enjoy the taste of healthy food.
- You slowly start to realize that unhealthy food isn’t as tasty as you thought, nor does it make you feel very good.
- As a result of the above three points, you will often lose weight if you’re overweight.
- You begin to sort through the emotional issues you have around food and eating. This takes a bit longer, but it’s important.
- Social overeating can become less of a problem — you can eat mindfully while socializing, with practice, and not overeat.
- You begin to enjoy the eating experience more, and as a result enjoy life more, when you’re more present.
- It can become a mindfulness ritual you look forward to.
- You learn how food affects your mood and energy throughout the day.
- You learn what food best fuels your exercise and work and play.
The most powerful message I took from mindful eating is that food is my friend, not my enemy. That no foods are taboo, I can eat anything I choose, I simply learnt to listen to my body and not my hungry eyes, hungry mouth or ravenous feelings.
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