Mindfulness translates to all aspects of life, and it’s a pretty amazing mantra to live by. When it comes to eating, the message of intuitive mindfulness can be simplified into five concepts. Understanding these concepts—and better yet, applying them in your approach to food—can help you eat to live and thrive, while also teaching your body how to know when it’s done eating (a lost art!). The latter helps curb appetite in a healthful way and keeps portions reasonable. Plus, mindful eating can be the difference between making nutritious choices and diving face first into the cookie jar—without even trying.
Excited? You should be! Welcome to mindful eating 101.
The 5 Components of Mindful Eating
Becoming aware of your personal hunger and fullness cues is *key* to building mindfulness around food. Take a few days to learn what happens when you feel hungry and how you feel when you’re full. Try to eat slowly and really pay attention to your body’s cues. For me, I know I’m hungry when my stomach starts growling—duh—and my brain gets a little fuzzy and I start zoning out.
Some people can go years without ever feeling hungry, because they always eat before they get to that point. Others have no idea what it means to eat to satisfaction, and they end every meal with that gross, too-full feeling. Current portion sizes are a big part of that. Restaurants go overboard serving up huge portions (and don't get me started on all-you-can-eat options!), and there’s a weird “get-your-money’s-worth” sense tied up in eating out, too. At home, oversized dinner plates the size of a frisbee aren’t helping us practice portion control.
So start paying attention. Eat slowly—really savor your meal. Chew your food, sip water in between bites, and make meal times an enjoyable part of your day. Eating slowly gives your body time to send those oh-so-critical cues that we tend to overlook. Just because you can jam down every bite on your plate doesn’t mean you need to, so slow things down and gauge how you’re feeling as you move through your meal.
I have to be honest—I don’t always agree with or follow through with this component of mindful eating (because… life!), but it’s really important to mindfulness overall. Eating food without distraction is truly the secret to knowing how you feel when you eat, picking up on your own cues for hunger and satiety, and really appreciating your food. Makes total sense, right?
Things get a little dicey in the practical application of this component, because it means all your multi-tasking skills are useless. It means the television is off, the book is tucked away, the phone/laptop are out of reach, and the entire experience is about you and your food. If you’re shaking your head and thinking yeah, right, I get it. So start small! Build time into your day for a single mindfully eaten meal. Once you start, you may find that it becomes a really important way to enjoy your meals. And you don’t have to be perfect—mindfully eating even once a day has its benefits. And that’s true no matter what you’re eating, whether it’s a big, elaborate, sit-down meal, or, ahem, your favorite Bumpin Blends smoothie that you’re savoring while you lean against the kitchen counter for a few blissful minutes.
The emotional response to food is huge. We associate food with comfort, friendship/family/social activities, preparation, community, and more. Certain foods remind us of certain places or experiences, and eating food has become a very emotionally-based part of our culture, in addition to cultures around the world.
It’s important to embrace these emotional parts of eating food, via socialization of food and preparation in particular. Cooking your own food at home, cooking for others, eating with friends, and other experiences like that help you appreciate your food and where it comes from. Building that link between source and table also helps with this appreciation, making you more mindful of what you’re eating, how it’s made, and where it came from. As cheesy as this sounds, think of this as building a “bond” between you and your food.
So many people, women in particular, have more negative associations with food than positive. We beat ourselves up so much over the food we eat, that eating in itself is heavily associated with feelings of guilt, regret, shame, and judgement. It’s truly scary.
By attempting to eliminate those feelings, we can create positive associations with food to make our relationship with food healthier. By getting rid of the shame, guilt, and regret tied to certain foods, we can just enjoy food and eat what we want, when we want it. Over time, being mindful of eating makes us crave the healthy options that aren’t necessarily associated with so many negative emotions. Then, when we do eat those particular foods, we eat them because we want them and we know our body is craving them for some reason, so we do not feel bad about it. Enjoy that donut, girl.
Meditation is amazing, full stop. Honestly, if you aren’t meditating a few times a week, get on that train. But when it comes to food, meditation doesn’t necessarily mean ommm-ing out in front of your plate. Its meaning is closer to thinking clearly about your food, where it’s from, and how it’s used.
This is demonstrated really well in something I call the raisin exercise. (Bear with me before you think I’m totally nuts!) You’re given one raisin. Hold it in your hand and feel it. Look at it as if you’ve never seen a raisin before, as if it’s something from Mars that just fell from the sky. Think about where it came from, how it grew, the process it went through to get to your hand. Really look at its features, all the curves and hollows. Roll it between your fingers to feel the touch of it and put it to your nose to smell it. Heck, maybe even close your eyes. Slowly put the raisin to your mouth and without chewing, just keep it in your mouth and think about the whole process of putting food in your mouth. Then, slowly chew the raisin, thinking about all the textures and sensations that come from it. Think hard about how the raisin is changing while you’re chewing it. Then, after really appreciating all those steps, swallow the raisin. Think about the unconscious processes of swallowing and mentally consider the path your raisin goes through following your swallow.
That’s the raisin experiment.
Yes, it’s totally, totally exaggerated and a little crazy (in my opinion). But doing this sort of meditation about food—to a much smaller degree—when you eat really pulls this all together. It gives you a deeper appreciation of food, eating, and your body, changing the way you perceive and consume food for the better.
TL:DR: Mindful eating in a nutshell is simply, eating with intention and paying close attention to what you’re feeling before, during, and after.