When we were children, our intuitive sense of when and how much to eat prevailed. Meals were re-fuelling stops in between the important business of playing, exploring and being a child. However, as we grew older, food began to serve many purposes and the simple relationship between hunger, eating and satisfaction became wrapped in complex thoughts and emotions. We all have to eat yet, for so many of us, food and eating is no longer a source of nourishment and pleasure, it’s loaded with despair, anxiety and guilt. We need to take a fresh look at this increasingly widespread form of suffering and I believe Mindful Eating is the answer.
The issue is not the food we eat, so the problem cannot be resolved by imposing change from the outside with lists of what to eat and avoid, restrictive rules, counting and weighing (aka dieting!). The issue is why and how we eat, the drivers that compel us to eat. Mindful Eating recognises that our unbalanced relationship to food, eating and body lies in the thinking mind and the feeling heart. Only change from the inside, brought about through curiosity, compassion and understanding of our own unique challenges, can address these problems at their source.
“Mindful Eating is deliberately paying attention to our moment by moment experience of eating and drinking without judgement or criticism: fully aware of the tastes and textures in the mouth as well as thoughts, emotions and sensations in the mind, heart and body.”
Mindful Eating is based on the fact that when we eat on auto-pilot or with distraction, we are not fully aware of the food in our mouth. This is because the mind has two distinct functions: thinking and awareness. When the thinking function takes priority, the awareness function takes a back seat. So when we eat while reading, watching TV or checking our phone, the flavour of the food diminishes. When the thinking function has taken over we don’t taste what we eat, we end up eating more than we need and finish our meal feeling strangely dissatisfied. Without awareness, we can eat an entire meal and not taste more than a bite or two.
In practice, Mindful Eating means having the mind completely full of all the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise as we eat and drink. This gives us an awareness of not only what we’re eating, but crucially, why we’re eating. Mindful Eating is an ability we all possess and with a little practice it has the power to restore our natural sense of balance, satisfaction and peace with food. When we learn to engage our body, heart and mind and be fully present, Mindful Eating can liberate us from the unwanted behaviours that have taken over our eating, reconnect us with the wisdom of our body, and restore an easy pleasure in eating that is our birthright as human beings.
Mindful Eating Practice
Next time you have a meal avoid as many distractions as possible – no reading, no checking your phone, no watching TV and if you can manage it, no talking. Take 15 minutes to focus only on your food. Use all your senses to appreciate the food in front of you and stay present to the tastes, textures and sensations of eating and drinking. If the mind wanders (because that’s what minds do!), gently bring your focus back to the food without judgement or criticism. If this seems like too big an ask, try to remain mindful for the first five bites of your food – I promise it will be a revelation! Please leave a comment below to let me know about your Mindful Eating experience and what you learned from the practice.