Mindful Eating: An Introduction
Eating is such a routine behaviour that it can be done on autopilot and with little thought. The ‘mindful’ concept has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and is a really useful concept when it comes to eating, since mindful eating practises can help you to become much more aware of yourself and your eating. Awareness is power, and it’s only through awareness that we can really change our eating habits for the better.
Mindful Eating To Shift You Out Of Auto-Pilot
It’s so easy to eat food on ‘auto-pilot’: this might include eating when zoned out in front of the TV, mindlessly munching whilst working at your desk or driving, eating in a habitual way such as eating at the same time every day, whether or not you’re hungry, grazing on food that’s lying around, eating large portions without being aware that it’s much more food than you need, and not really tasting and savouring food. Eating mindlessly is ok from time to time, but when you eat mindlessly on a daily basis, it can become a real problem far as your health and weight is concerned.
Our compulsion to eat often stems from automatic habits; habits often become ingrained after years of carrying out the same behaviours, day in, day out. We can approach mindful eating by identifying those habits and creating new ones. For example, characteristics of mindful eating include noticing how much you’re eating, how you’re eating, when you’re eating and why you’re eating. We can start to eat more mindfully by really focusing on our senses, ie the flavour and texture of food, looking at our portion sizes, noticing when we’re actually hungry and when we’re full, and knowing when we’re eating to fulfil emotional hunger rather than physical, ‘real’ hunger.
Eating For Pleasure Instead Of Due To Hunger
Mindful eating is adopting awareness of your eating in any particular moment. Are you choosing food that satisfies your hunger and provides your body with the nutrients it needs, as opposed to choosing food with the hope that it will relieve boredom, loneliness or a low mood? Do your taste buds get the last word, ie is your eating at that moment simply for pleasure, regardless of whether or not you’re hungry? If so, you’re not necessarily eating for the right reasons.
Mindful Eating Addresses Habits
My approach to helping others to reach a healthy weight and obtain better health is to introduce to them to the concept of mindful eating as a way of getting them away from dieting. Mindful eating is about balanced eating, not food restriction. Diets don’t necessarily address underlying habits, and addressing underlying habits is absolutely key. In contrast, mindful eating enables an individual to look at his or her habits and to ‘deconstruct’ those habits that have got in the way of helping them to enjoy good health and to reach a healthy weight.
Mindful eating exercises can help you to look at how mindful or mindless your eating is. For example, writing down the statement:’ ‘I eat because….’ then adding as many endings as you can, can help you to think about which reasons for eating serve you and which don’t. When something is written down you can see it more clearly, and the writing process helps you to really think about your eating habits.
Just becoming more aware of ‘surplus’ eating, ie food that you pick on or graze at, can be a big step forward in helping you to manage your eating better. Getting into the habit of thinking before you eat, asking yourself not only whether you need that food at the time, but also whether you will actually enjoy it, can be very powerful indeed.
Planning: Part Of Mindful Eating
Planning is another powerful tool when it comes to mindful eating- having a clear picture in your mind of what you intend to eat before you start a meal at home or in a restaurant, or before you go out to visit a cafe. Some people don’t feel satisfied until they’ve overeaten and feel physically full, but if you plan in advance what you intend to eat, you might find that you savour your food more and eat more slowly, because you know there’s a limit to the amount of food you’re about to eat.
Before you try to change your eating behaviour, establish first whether your mind is getting in the way of your behaviour, and whether you can switch your mind from operating mindlessly to mindfully. Have a go and see the results!
For more information about how I support clients with their weight loss and weight maintenance goals, see ‘Services‘.