Mindfulness involves bringing one’s awareness to the present moment while nonjudgmentally accepting one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Mindful eating is the relearning of your ability to listen and respond to your internal cues while simultaneously being in touch with external factors that may be at play in food related decision making. People eat in their habitual pattern day after day without even realizing it. Mindful eating simply prompts you to become conscious to what you’re doing when you’re eating. Mindful eating not only promotes health, it provides an approach to foster a healthy relationship with food.
The core principles of mindful eating include:
- Acknowledgment of the nourishment available in foods
- Choosing both nutritious and enjoyable foods
- Non-judgmental acceptance of food preferences
- Recognition and honoring of physical hunger and satiety cues
- Use of internal wisdom in guiding eating decisions
Since many people are detached from physical hunger and eat in its absence, the perfect way to begin eating mindfully is gain perspective on your internal hunger cues by asking yourself why you eat. This question allows for an exploration of your personal eating triggers. One trigger may be physical hunger but others may include feelings such as sadness or sensory cues like the smell of freshly baked bread. If your hunger is a true physical hunger, another mindful practice is to gauge the level of that hunger using a 0-10 scale. On this scale a 0 indicates extreme hunger while 10 denotes being as full as imaginable. The goal is to remain aware of your physical hunger and to avoid either extreme, remaining some place in the middle-from slightly hungry to satisfied. Try to be mindful of this physical hunger before, during, and after meals.
Another important aspect of mindful eating is to identify when you eat. Here the answer may again be driven by physical hunger (I eat when I feel hungry) or emotions (I eat when I am sad), but it may always be related to the time of day if you’re an individual who eats regularly scheduled meals. In being mindful, you are ideally eating when you feel hungry. However, if you’ve become detached from hunger cues you may need a timely eating schedule as a reminder.
Mindful eating asks what you eat. This is intended to examine the factors you consider when choosing your foods. These factors may include the nutritional value of the food, the taste or sensory appeal of the food, or the convenience of the food item. It is important to note that these factors are not mutually exclusive and a food may be nutritious, delicious, and convenient all at once.
Next you should ask yourself how you eat. In our fast paced society, exploring this question is especially beneficial. You may notice that you are eating very quickly or in a distracted manner. Perhaps you make it to the end of your meal feeling as if you did not even give yourself permission to taste or enjoy the food. On the other hand, you may be eating slowly and with the purpose to take pleasure in the meal. You may be truly engaged in both your food and the company you’re sharing it with.
Mindfulness involves questioning how much you eat and why. The quantity of what we eat can be predicted by our hunger cues or something else entirely. You may choose to eat everything on your plate regardless of how full you are.
It is important to acknowledge where your energy goes after a meal. After all, the true purpose of food is to provide us with energy. Post meal do you feel sluggish and without motivation, or does food instill energy that you can use in work or play? Also remember to consider both physical and mental energy levels. Does your meal leave you feeling satisfied and grateful for foods or are you left with feelings of shame?
These mindful eating strategies should be used to gain awareness into your eating patterns rather than to dictate a specific response. The personal insight gained should be used to make informed and intuitive choices rather than for self judgement. Remember to be gentle with yourself and to always enjoy your food.