Eating with mindfulness is not about fitness or weight loss. It is a profound concept that needs to be adequately understood to promote good health and wellness. It’s not merely about checking the labels, but the way we consume our food that defines our relationship with it.
Eating with mindfulness is a complete lifestyle based on eating and enjoying food that benefits both mind and body. We can say that mindful eating is just one but an essential part of mindfulness practice.
Let’s talk about a few mindfulness eating exercises that can help us develop a better relationship with our food.
What Is Eating With Mindfulness?
We live in a fast-paced world where we face a lot of stress and anxiety regularly. As a result, we are always on the go. We form unhealthy eating habits. We are light sleepers. We consume too many stimulants, such as tea and coffee, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, most of us are distracted and prioritize other things over food. At times, we even skip our meals or eat in a hurry. We feel that eating is just a basic need of the human body, which is required for survival and doesn’t require much focus and attention.
I have met many successful (so-called) people who earn millions of dollars every month but are extremely unhappy because they struggle to pass waste out of the body every morning. They are so wealthy that they can buy practically anything that comes to mind but struggle with many physical and mental ailments.
Let me ask you a simple question. Where would you like to spend more time, on the dining table or the toilet seat?
Let me make it very clear that this post is not about weight loss. Weight loss can be a consequence of mindful eating, but that is not what we will discuss here. Maybe I will cover that in a separate post.
We are here to learn how mindfulness eating can change the quality of our life. So, I’m sharing these six powerful and practical strategies that can help you do that.
#1 – Settle Down And Prepare Your Mind Before the Meal
Get away from all electronic gadgets you are using at least 10 minutes before consuming your meal. Most of us are so hooked to our fancy gadgets and devices that we must constantly be reminded to focus on eating. We don’t give ourselves a break and relax before eating.
Some of us abruptly get up and start hogging food like wild animals. I did this myself and have suffered significant consequences.
Fix a time for all of your meals. Your body adapts to this timing, and all organs work accordingly to help you digest the food.
If you eat at different times, the body will be confused, and you will have problems. Also, from the point of view of mindfulness, this is very important.
For example, if you are supposed to eat lunch at 1:00 pm, you should disengage from your devices at least 10 minutes earlier.
For these 10 minutes, breathe deep (but slowly) and be aware of the fact that you are about to consume your lunch. It helps relax our mind and body and free us from the stress of our earlier activity.
#2 – Remove Distractions and Focus on Your Meal
While consuming your meal, you should entirely focus on eating. Most of us have this habit of switching on the television or engaging with our phones and other work while eating.
If you are worried about how many likes you got on that picture you uploaded an hour ago or that email you were expecting from a client, you are most likely to eat in a hurry which may cause indigestion and bloat.
A report published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that those who multitask while eating food like watching television, using phones, or in general are distracted and are more like to eat more. Paying attention to a meal was linked with eating less food.
Also, it’s important to chew your properly before you take them inside. When we are free of distractions chewing food comes naturally to us. Only when we are distracted and stressed, we tend to eat in haste.
When the food is eaten in small bites and chewed thoroughly, it gets mixed with the saliva properly before going inside and aids in better digestion. Devote at least 20 minutes of your time to one meal.
#3 – Be Mindful of What You Put Inside Your Body
When the food is on the table, everything looks so exciting that it’s difficult to resist the temptation. Our minds and bodies react to every item’s color, smell, and presentation on the table.
In such situations, we get so mesmerized by the visual appeal of the food that we don’t realize what’s good for us and what isn’t.
I remember when I went out with my wife for a dinner party thrown by one of my friends. We had a good time, had drinks and delicious food, and in the end, they served dessert.
It was some kiwi based pudding. Now my wife has a sweet tooth, and it’s difficult for her to resist the temptation of desserts.
She had a big chunk of that pudding, not realizing that she was highly allergic to kiwi. The presentation of this dessert was so appealing that we forgot that my wife is allergic to kiwi skipped my mind altogether.
After some time, she started experiencing swelling in her mouth, and we had to rush to the doctor. Thank god we controlled it timely.
We should always be mindful of what we put inside our bodies. Not just on occasions and parties, but in general, we should also be conscious while purchasing packed items from grocery stores and supermarkets.
We should carefully study the ingredients mentioned at the back of those items we purchase and read about their impact on our bodies.
#4 – Don’t Engage in Conversation While Eating
I understand that this may not be possible when you are eating out with your family, at work or when attending social functions.
Under such circumstances, it may seem impolite not to talk. But it’s always possible to keep your conversations small and to be made only when required.
When you are at home, avoid making conversation while eating. You can talk to your family about it, and I’m sure they will appreciate your point of view. Your complete focus should be on the food. All activities should be performed consciously, starting from lifting the fork to ingesting the food.
As I said before, even when you are eating out with friends and family, keep conversations to a minimum. We usually tend to get carried away in such an environment and forget about mindfulness.
I have seen people at social gatherings getting so excited to speak that they start spitting food out of their mouths while talking. Not only does it look gross, but it is also bad for health. In such cases probability of food getting stuck or entering the windpipe is relatively high.
Be mindful of not putting the fork in your mouth when you’re speaking. When you finish speaking gently, bring your attention back to your food, take a slow deep breath, and start eating again. Repeating this over and over again will form a habit.
#5 – Identify Emotional Triggers That Gives Rise to Craving Unhealthy Food
It is something I used to do, and I faced lots of health issues because of it. I had become an addict, and as a result, I was gaining a lot of weight. Also, I started suffering from lower back pains and tension headaches. My immune system had weakened, and I was under a lot of stress and anxiety.
Every time I was anxious, I used to rush towards the refrigerator and make myself a white bread cheese sandwich. I used to hunt for food like a hungry rodent.
Some of you know what I’m talking about… haha. But it was not funny at that time.
Most of the time, I used to overeat and feel sick afterward. Things reached a point where it became difficult for me even to walk half a mile. I was suffering both in my professional as well as personal life.
We often give in to our emotions and start eating mindlessly whenever we feel anxious, sad, lonely, or just bored. The result is that we get a short burst of emotional high, which we do enjoy for a couple of minutes, but feel like crap later on for hours together.
When I adopted mindfulness, I became aware of my emotional triggers—the feelings and emotions that caused me to crave junk food. I could see how suppressing my feelings was making me sick inside and out.
It took me over two years to get back to good health. I lost 50 pounds of weight, cured my lower back and joint pains. I felt very vibrant and alive, and my relationship with people improved drastically.
Practicing mindfulness helps us distinguish between emotionally comforting foods from those that provide nutrition to the body.
#6 – Give Your Brain Time to Process What You Have Eaten
Eating slowly is one of the habits I still am struggling with. Although I have improved a lot now, I still need to be more mindful in my eating.
After eating our meal, it takes our body approximately 20 minutes to signal our brain that we are full. Therefore, eating slowly is very important; otherwise, there’s always a possibility to overeat.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the natural ways to slow down your eating is to chew your food properly. Chew each bite 25 times (or more).
Earlier I used to hog my food like a wild animal. I remained so lost that I never even bothered to look at my food. Sometimes I even used to wonder I had eaten at all or not.
TIP #: You should be able to recall what you ate in your last meal. If you failed to do so, you were not mindful while eating.
One tricky situation is when we eat sweets that contain refined sugar as the main ingredient.
Sugar is seen as a reward by the brain, so the more you eat, the harder it gets to quit. Instead, go for foods with natural sugars such as fruits and nuts.
Eating mindfully teaches us to form a deep connection with our food. We need to understand how the food on your plate has originated.
The farmers sow the seeds, and nature provides the mechanisms that enable those seeds to turn into plants, living and breathing organisms.
And after a few months of cultivation, these plants are uprooted, collected, and transported to market from where you purchase them and create those exotic dishes. A lot of hard work goes into it, from farm to fork.
Therefore, it’s essential to treat our food with a lot of reverence. When we do that, it becomes effortless and natural to express gratitude to all the universal forces that contributed to creating this meal.
Our previous generations (in almost every culture) used to recite a small prayer before eating food which was graciously laid out on the table. In that prayer, we used to thank the Lord for providing us. I don’t know many people today still practice that, but that was mindfulness a practice.
You may be getting the impression that mindfulness sounds like living off-grid in the mountains and seems like a very daunting and challenging goal. But let me assure you it’s not. You don’t have to live like a hermit to understand the basic principles of mindfulness.
Just following simple practices every day for a few minutes can radically change the way you live. Eating food is the most critical activity in our life because It nourishes the entire body and keeps the soul happy.
Keep the above-mentioned mindfulness eating exercises handy with you whenever you sit down to eat. Slowly over time, you will build healthy habits that will transform your life in ways you can never even imagine.
If you have any medical condition, please consult your doctor before following any mindfulness program or making any drastic lifestyle changes.