If you’ve ever struggled with any form of disordered eating, felt unhappy in your own body or wanted to change how you look, you’ll know that eating can be a minefield. The world is full of loud voices telling you what you should or shouldn’t be eating, or diets you should be trying, and sometimes all of this information can feel overwhelming.
Enter mindful eating. This eating technique puts your own body and mind front and centre, and will truly help you to gain control over your eating habits. It’s been shown to help reduce binge eating, promote weight loss and to help in the ongoing fight all of us face in today’s culture to reprogram how our brains think about food and diet. And after all - if you’ve been dieting for years, isn’t something new where you don’t have to restrict yourself at least worth a try?
What is mindful eating?
If you’ve ever dabbled in the Buddhist concept of mindfulness (we know we have), you’ll already be familiar with the concept of mindful eating. Mindfulness is a kind of meditation which helps you to see and cope with emotions, thought patterns and bodily sensations. It’s effective at managing the symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and yes, disordered eating. So it’s not such a stretch to bring the mindfulness concept from your yoga mat or candlelit bedroom at night to your plate at the dinner table.
The basic concept of mindful eating is using mindfulness techniques to reach a state where your full attention is on the experiences and sensations you feel when you’re craving food or eating it.
How to eat mindfully
The most important feature of intuitive eating is to eat your food, whether it’s a small snack, morning coffee or big dinner, slowly and without any distractions. This means no Netflix, no scrolling through social media on your phone and no chatting on the phone to your friend planning your next run together. You have to pay attention to all of the physical sensations of eating, what your food tastes and feels like in your mouth and what it feels like to gradually become fuller the more you eat.
The first time you do this might be pretty challenging, especially if your relationship with food has historically been rocky. However, stick with it and you’ll find things getting easier as time goes on. Concentrate on engaging your senses by noticing the tastes and smells of your food, as well as what it looks like, the colours on your plate, what it sounds like and what the texture and flavour is like.
Eating in this slow, non-distracted way means you’ll have much more time than you usually do to consider your hunger cues, and if you’re full or not. Doing this will enable you to become far more in touch with your body and what it feels like when you fill your stomach with food. Over time, this will help you to begin to recognise when you’re actually hungry and when you’re craving food because you’re sad or stressed, or if you’re perhaps just thirsty.
Paying real, concerted attention to food and eating may feel uncomfortable at first, but by sticking with it, you’ll learn to cope with any guilt or anxiety you may feel around food and eating by recognising that you’re just giving your body what it needs to survive and thrive. You’ll begin to notice what kinds of food make you feel good and which don’t - eating your way mindfully through a huge plate of fast food is likely to give you a lot more time to reflect on why you’re putting it into your body than scarfing down food you buy in the drive through while sitting in your car, for example. It will also allow you to appreciate your food more, as you’ll be paying close attention to every bite you put into your mouth. This will make you more likely to buy and cook yourself delicious, nourishing meals.
The biggest long term impact of eating mindfully is that it will help you to replace any automatic feelings, thoughts and reactions to food with more conscious, healthy, learned responses.
The benefits of mindful eating
Physically, mindful eating is likely to make you eat less. It takes around 20 minutes for the signals from our stomachs to reach our brains to let it know we’re full, and if eating is a quick, mindless act, you’re likely to eat more because your mind and body won’t be paying attention to these signals. If you’re eating fast, these signals may not even arrive until you’ve already eaten too much.
Studies show that mindful eating can help you to lose weight, by changing these automatic eating behaviours and also by reducing stress and negative feelings around food.