Last updated: October 2020
Five Easy Steps to be More Present Using Mindful Eating
Have you noticed yourself on autopilot during your every day tasks, including while you eat? Mindful eating allows you to notice emotions and physical sensations as you eat and consider implications of your eating habits and choices. When you eat mindfully, you can fully digest your food – both in the physical and mental senses. Mindful eating can help you to reactivate your senses and walk through your numbness, anxiety, or complacency to the other side.
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What is Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
Recently, the concept of mindfulness has become more popular in the mainstream media. Mindful breathing, mindful meditations, mindful activities. Each of these and more have been passed around and talked about.
But what is mindfulness, really?
Mindfulness is the practice of noticing your current awareness – that is, how you’re feeling and what you’re sensing – and allowing this awareness to pass without judging it as good or bad, or anything in between.
Mindfulness practices often ask you to think about the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. The practice can also require you to consider what emotions you might be experiencing, and where you are experiencing them.
For example, many people feel anxiety in their stomachs in the form of nausea, or anger in their chest, or fatigue in their heads.
Just as you can feel the phone that you’re holding in your hands, or the seat that your sitting on in the back of your legs, you can feel your emotions in a specific area of your body. For many people though, cultivating an awareness can be a difficult task. Due to avoidance, trauma, or other life experiences, you can feel numb – both physically and emotionally.
Intentionally attempting to feel again will help to mitigate some of that numbness and help you life more fully.
The difficult part of mindfulness for many people is the non-judgmental aspect. In current day society, we are trained to judge things and categorize things. Heck, this is just part of the way humans operate.
However, these judgements – whether something is good or bad – can be harmful when directed toward ourselves and our emotions. When practicing mindfulness, avoid labeling what you’re feeling with a quality statement. While emotions are often considered positive or negative, I would challenge you for the purpose of practicing mindfulness to consider them as signals, trying to tell you something about your mind and body.
When we consider emotions as signals, rather than giving them a quality, we can respond with a wise plan, rather than react without thinking.
You’re emotions are just a stoplight communicating green, yellow, and red.
While you can meditate mindfully, mindfulness practice and meditation are NOT the same, yet they are often times confused. Mindfulness is more of an attitude rather than an activity. You can practice anything with a mindful attitude.
Mindful meditation, mindful walking, mindful eating.
Specifically, mindful eating is the practice of eating with a mindful attitude. Simple, right?
Mindful eating allows us to take notice of how we are feeling emotionally and physically as we eat, and consider the implications of our eating habits and food choices. In other words, mindful eating allows us to actually digest our food – both in the typical physical sense, but also in a mental sense. Because every system in your body works together, you can be sure that if your brain is focused on something else, your body won’t be focused either. When you practice a present awareness with your brain, your body will follow.
You can improve your physical health – digestion, food choices, and health practices – through improving your mental health with mindfulness. Mindful eating is a great way to integrate your body’s systems and develop a holistic wellness.
Five Steps to Mindful Eating
Let’s discus five steps to eat mindfully.
1. Get Rid of Distractions
The reason eliminating distractions is the first step in mindful eating is because without this step, you won’t be able to do the next four successfully. In our modern world there are constant distractions, even when we think we are alone. Consider your phone, for example.
Today, most people eat in front of a screen, whether it’s the TV or tablet or phone. These screens prevent us from eating mindfully and sensing the digestion process in our bodies.
While I’m not saying you have to throw your phone off a cliff, or even put it in another room, consider putting it on airplane mode while you eat. Turn off the TV and sit around the dinner table with your family.
When you decide to eat mindfully, you put your health and the health of your family above your personal desires for entertainment.
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2. Try Something New
After you’ve removed distractions, one of the next steps in mindful eating is to try something new. Often times, when we stick to our routines and our habits, we can go through the motions.
Going through the motions is the exact opposite of what we want to do here. Think about it. If you’re on autopilot, that means you are not noticing. You are not aware. And that’s the whole point of a mindful eating practice.
When you try something new, you’re able to step outside of your comfort zone and activate your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that thinks critically). You have to focus harder because you’ve never done it before.
For example, try eating with chopsticks, or your non-dominant hand. If you’re a righty, it’s certainly going to be a challenge eating pasta with your left hand. AND THAT’S A GOOD THING. You want to be able to focus more intently and notice the details that you might not have noticed had you been eating on autopilot.
3. Pay Attention to Your Senses
Now we get to the key piece of a mindful eating practice – noticing your senses and how you’re feeling. As discussed earlier in this post, a mindful practice, including mindful eating, requires you to notice. Often the best way to do this is to sit as still as possible and start by noticing your breath. Your breath is a relative constant in your life and it’s rather tangible, so it’s easy for most people to pay attention to without much practice.
Practice taking a few deep breaths, maybe counting to eight on your inhale and counting to six on your exhale. Think about what your breath feels like in your nose, your throat, and your stomach. Is it cold or warm? Maybe slow or fast? Pay attention to the way your chest moves up and down.
If you need help focusing on your breath, I recommend the website Xhalr. It’s entirely free and gives a visual cue with customizable settings to breathe with.
After you’ve practiced noticing your breathing, you can begin your mindful eating practice.
When you begin to take your first bite, take notice of what you taste, touch, see, smell, and hear. Ask yourself these questions to start.
What temperature is the food? What about your metal or plastic utensils?
After you put food in your mouth, what does it taste like? Sweet, salty, sour, and bitter are all common flavors that the human brain can recognize.
Is the food soft or crunchy? Does it melt in your mouth, or feel slimy down your throat?
What color is your food? Is it a different color if you mix the different foods together on your plate?
Can you hear yourself chewing? What about the people around you – are they talking? Singing? Laughing?
While it’s not one of the five senses, when you’re participating in mindful eating, noticing your hunger levels is also important.
Hunger can range from overly full to ravishing, with appropriately satisfied in the middle. Consider what your hunger level is before you start eating.
Has it changed after taking your first few bites? What about half-way through your meal? When you’re finished is your hunger level different?
How do you know what hunger level you are at?
Last, you must chew your food slowly. This is part of the reason it’s suggested to use a non-dominant hand. You really want to soak as much in as possible about the eating experience. Chewing slowly helps you have enough time to notice all the things mentioned above. If you scarf down your food in a matter of seconds, you won’t have time to consider what it tastes like, let alone how hungry you are.
4. Consider What This Meal Means to You
The next step in your mindful eating practice is to move outside of yourself into your present experience. What does this meal mean to you? Is it just nourishment, or does it have emotional significance.
Throughout history, meals have often signified more than just fuel for our bodies. Maybe your current meal is teaching you something about communication or family or silence. Listen to what your brain is thinking about as you eat. Notice it, and allow it to pass without judging it good or bad.
5. Think About How Your Food Arrived on Your Plate
Finally, consider the ways in which your current experience of mindful eating has been affected by those in your community and current society. Your food likely took many different steps before making it to your mouth, and many people were likely involved in growing or raising it. Modern day food consumption starts with farmers, but is often processed by many different facilities. Even if you grew your food yourself, take a moment to consider how much effort and how many resources it took to do so.
Take a moment to sit in gratitude for the farmer or store worker, or your own hands for providing you an opportunity for mindful eating and body nourishment.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating can be a good introductory activity to mindfulness, which has been shown to help with anxiety, feeling emotionally and physically numb, and can physically change how your brain is wired. If you’re interested in integrating more mindfulness activities into your daily routine, check out these Alexa apps:
Each of these apps gives you opportunities for guided mindfulness meditations that you can do without having your phone or a screen in front of you, and you can hear it from any room in your house. Personally, my favorite is the Stop, Breathe, Think Alexa app – I’ve used it periodically for about a year now.
Are you interested in trying mindful eating, or have you tried it before? What did you think about the experience? Let me know what benefits you’ve experienced from integrating a mindful practice into your daily routine!
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Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, I am not YOUR mental health professional. The information provided on this website is for educational and informational purposes only and using this website does not establish a counselor-client relationship, or constitute provision of mental health services. I am not responsible for any damages resulting from your use of the content on this site, as the information provided does not substitute for collaboration with a health professional. Please consult with your health professional before making changes to your health regimen.