Mindful Eating: An Introduction
Eating is such a routine behaviour that it can be done on autopilot with very 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 habits. Awareness is power, and it’s only through awareness that we can make positive changes to our eating habits, improve our relationship with food and feel more in charge of our eating.
Mindful Eating Shifts You Out Of Autopilot
It’s so easy to eat on autopilot; for example, munching away when zoned out in front of the TV, mindlessly eating whilst working at your desk, grazing on food that’s lying around, eating according to external influences such as the clock or whether others are eating rather than internal cues such as hunger, eating larger portions than your body needs, eating quickly, putting very little thought into food choices, and not really tasting and savouring food. Eating mindlessly is ok from time to time, but when mindless eating is carried out on a daily basis it can become a real problem as far as your health, weight and overall relationship with food is concerned.
Getting Curious About Your Eating
Habits can become ingrained after years of carrying out the same behaviours day in, day out. If we want to make positive changes to our eating, becoming aware of how we currently eat and then focusing on making some small changes and then being consistent in making those changes, can help us to replace old habits with new ones. Mindful eating involves getting curious about your eating, paying attention to how and how much you’re eating, when you’re eating and why you’re eating. We can start to eat more mindfully by using our inner wisdom to guide us and by listening to what the body is asking for- for example, does the body actually need food right now or do you need something else? If you do need food, what type of food is your body asking for? If you opt for a certain meal or snack, will that food choice actually keep you going or do you need to go for something else? Thinking before we eat, slowing down the eating process and focusing on the flavour and texture of food can help us to feel more satisfied with less food. With mindless eating there’s often little enjoyment, but when we eat more mindfully we can actually start to enjoy food more.
Becoming Aware Of Your Eating Habits
Mindful eating is about becoming more aware of your general eating habits as well as your eating behaviour in any given moment. A key aspect of mindful eating is being aware of our motivations to eat, and whether the desire to eat is stemming from emotional hunger rather than physical, ‘true’ hunger. Are you eating because you’re hungry and in order to eat foods that provide your body with the nutrients it needs, as opposed to 100% pleasure-driven eating or eating food because it’s present or because you’re bored, lonely, stressed, feeling a bit low, in need of some pleasure or maybe even because you’re procrastinating- putting off tasks you don’t want to do. It can be easy to eat food simply because it looks good, not because we’re hungry- food can often look better than it tastes, or the thought of an item on the menu might sound delicious but after eating it we might feel disappointed with the spontaneous food choice we made.
I encourage people to use a journal to jot down anything they’re learning about their eating habits. Mindful eating exercises can help us to become more aware of our eating, for example, writing down the statement: ‘I tend to overeat or make mindless food choices when I’m……..’ and then completing the sentence by adding as many statements or scenarios as they can. Another thing to note down is your enjoyment of food. With mindless, mechanical overeating there’s often little enjoyment, but when we eat more mindfully it’s usually a more enjoyable, better quality experience. This is why I might ask clients to log out of ten how much they’ve enjoyed a meal or snack. Journalling can provide you with a bit of ‘me-time’, it’s a progress tool for you to look back on, and when you write things down you’re more likely to remember them because you can re-visit them at any time- it’s important to remind yourself of what you’re learning on your journey. Mindful eating is exactly that- it’s not a diet, it’s a personal journey.
Some people find that they eat healthy meals but it’s the eating in between meals that can let them down and lead to excessive food consumption. Just becoming aware of any extraneous eating you might do, ie food you pick at or graze on outside of main meal and snack times can therefore be a big step forward in helping you to avoid overeating mindlessly and enable you to feel more in charge of your eating. Getting into the habit of slowing down, pausing and thinking before you eat, asking yourself not only whether you need the food in any given moment but also whether it’s the right food choice and how much of it you need, can be very powerful indeed.
Mindful Eating Is Flexible Eating
My approach to helping others to feel more in charge of their eating, improve their relationship with food and set up and maintain long-term healthy eating habits is to introduce them to the concept of mindful eating as a way of getting them away from the dieting mindset and enabling them to make food decisions that are in their own best interest. Mindful eating is about balanced, flexible eating, not food restriction. It’s not about ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ foods. Diets can encourage an obsession with a weight loss goal whilst overlooking the importance of addressing problematic underlying eating habits. In contrast, mindful eating is about giving ourselves permission to eat the foods we enjoy whilst paying attention to how much and why we’re eating. When we start to engage the brain we can shift out of autopilot.
Planning is an important part of mindful eating- having a clear idea in your mind of what or how much you intend to eat before you start a meal at home, before you visit a restaurant or cafe, or what you will eat in the days ahead can help you to be prepared in advance. Try not to leave your eating to chance. With mindful intentions you’re less likely to trip up.
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