If you struggle with your relationship to food, practicing mindful eating can seem like it only adds more rules to mealtime. In truth, mindful eating is about eating with the intention to eat for your health while also paying more attention to eating as a process.
Put simply, mindful eating is paying attention to your food and your body. How is it making you feel, and what amount of food makes your body feel satisfied?
“Eating as a process,” may seem strange in a fast-paced world that often aims to devote as little time to fueling up with foods as possible, but it’s important to consider what emotions tend to trigger hunger specifically for you; the healthful contributions of the foods you are eating, how each food you eat appeals to your five senses, and how foods make you feel before, during and after eating them.
Here are 3 steps towards cultivating mindfulness:
1. Practice with a raspberry!
When I was first introduced to mindful eating, I performed this same exercise, and at first it seemed like the silliest thing to do, but I began to realize that I’ve tossed many a raspberry into my mouth without a second thought, and I’d never given it this much consideration before. It occurred to me about halfway through the activity that all food deserves our consideration. Mindfulness isn’t about spending a lot of time looking at a piece of fruit before you eat it, but about having a deeper understanding of that foods that you consciously decide to include in your diet.
To start, all you need is a raspberry and a quiet place to sit. Consider the raspberry, and isolate each of your senses in order to observe the fruit on a deeper level.
First, look at it, and consider its texture and color.
Now close your eyes and use your sense of touch. How does it feel in your hand, or when you squeeze it or rub its skin?
What do you notice about its scent?
Take your first bite, and chew very slowly. Observe not only the flavor, but the texture, how it feels to chew, the way it feels in your mouth.
Take about 20 seconds to finish your first bite. Observe how the taste changes as time passes.
An important thing to note is that eating mindfully does NOT necessarily mean taking this long to eat each bite. This exercise is more about learning to eat while paying attention than it is about getting into the habit of starting at foods before biting into them.
2. Make mealtime a peaceful time.
Meals can be difficult to enjoy if you don’t have a place in which to enjoy them. Eating meals on the go is sometimes necessary, but that doesn’t exclude making your home an eating environment that feels special. Focus on eliminating distractions so you can fully be present as you eat. When you’re planning to eat a meal, also think about the place in which you plan to eat: Do you have a cleared table, free of work you have to finish? Can you put away distractions for the course of the meal? Have a space where it’s just you, or you and those experiencing the meal with you. Enjoy the silence, so the only thing to pay attention to is your food.
3. Break out this easy breathing exercise when you’re feeling anxious (adapted from www.mindful.org):
Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, so you can breathe fully. Rest your hands wherever they feel comfortable. Relax your tongue inside your mouth.
Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body and its relationship to gravity. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Take a few deep breaths.
Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to change your breath. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
Check in before you check out. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.