Does this sound familiar? You need to be on a call for a meeting in an hour and you still need to make the bed, walk the dog, throw on some makeup, get at least 5 more minutes of "me time," and eat breakfast before you hop on this call. Time is limited so you decide that the bed can be messy, the dog will get an abbreviated walk, foundation, mascara, and lip gloss will do, "me time" will have to wait until later (if at all), and breakfast can be scarfed down while you're on the call.
Whether you have a career, are retired, have a family, or are just busy with life, the scenario above can easily apply to many situations. In a world full of busyness, we have mastered multitasking and thinking about the next thing we're about to do before we have finished what we are currently doing. When we eat meals, we may be in front of the television, standing up, driving, fiddling with our phone, on our computer (guilty), or having a conversation — we are anywhere, but with the meal that is in front of us.
Mindless eating is a lack of awareness of the food we're consuming. Eating while distracted, or mindless eating, is associated with anxiety, overeating, and weight gain. The good news is that research shows we can make better food choices and create healthy outcomes by taking a moment to pay attention to the food we consume.
Benefits of mindful eating include:
being able to retrain eating behaviors
having more awareness of fullness and hunger
reducing the possibility of overeating
being more satisfied with food
making better food choices
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism that was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness has been associated with living more intentionally and may have a positive impact on physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, mitigate symptoms of depression, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, and alleviate pain.
While paying attention to the object or activity at hand can be challenging, there are ways to practice being present and focused so that you're more aware internally (how you're feeling) and externally (your surrounding environment). When you observe these moments of awareness without judgment, you're in a state of mindfulness.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is quite different from a diet. A diet includes goals, rules, and restrictions. Mindful eating has no rules, guidelines, or restrictions. It's about your individual experience with food and how each one of your individual experiences may be different with each individual meal. There is no right or wrong, it's just an experience that you're observing. You focus on appreciating the experience of food and are not concerned with restricting intake.
The practice of mindfulness can help create calmness, presence, and gratitude while eating and help to manage eating behaviors. Research has shown that mindful eating can lead to greater psychological wellbeing, increased pleasure when eating, and body satisfaction. Some studies show that mindful eating may help individuals make more conscious and better food choices that support good health. Research also shows that mindful eating may help individuals recognize when they're full, therefore eating the appropriate amount, rather than overeating.
The intention is to savor the moment and the food, and to be fully present during the eating experience.
What's pretty cool about mindful eating is that it can also trickle into everyday life and you may find yourself living more mindfully. This means you may be more present in conversations, while driving, during meetings, and while reading, just to name a few. Why does this matter? Being more present can help you fully connect and engage with others and your tasks, elevating all experiences and truly living life to the fullest.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, attitudes associated with mindful eating and living mindfully include:
being nonjudgmental: It's about not judging what or how you're eating.
being patient: Take your time chewing and chew often with each bite (this can also help with digestion).
building self trust: When you let go of judgment, you start to build trust that you're making the best decisions for yourself.
striving less: There are no specific outcomes, therefore there's no effort. There's just being with the experience
acceptance: Accepting all experiences around eating helps to build acceptance and peace.
letting go: With mindful eating, you can let go of past experiences around food (if they have had a negative effect on you) and let go of old programming around food that may not be serving your best health.
A Mindful Eating Practice
If you'd like to practice mindful eating, try this simple exercise. You can use the exact example below and prepare yourself a beautiful and colorful salad or practice it with any meal you choose (and, hopefully with each subsequent meal!).
You are about to eat a colorful salad with a rainbow of colors, such as Romaine leafy greens, chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots, red onion, and avocado, plus a mouthwatering dressing drizzled over top. Take a moment to look at that salad in front of you before diving in. You may notice each and every color — the green leaves, the red tomatoes, the orange carrots, the red onion, and the green avocado. Perhaps you notice how the ingredients are mixed together in the salad. Then you notice the glistening of the dressing coating the veggies. You also notice that the brightly colored ingredients are radiating and perhaps you feel more radiant simply by looking at the salad (no judgment here, just noticing). You may then notice the aroma of the salad — sour vinegar, pungent onions, sweet tomatoes and carrots, and overall freshness. How do those aromas awaken your senses? Upon taking your first bite, you feel the texture of the creamy avocado, the crunchiness of the greens, and the juiciness of the tomatoes. Perhaps you feel an appreciation for the variety of textures creating fun sensations and a satisfying salad. Your tastebuds are then awakened by the bursts of flavors as you chew slowly, and many times, before you fully swallow.
Notice how this experience has made you feel. Do you feel more calm and grounded? Did you notice sensations that you maybe hadn't noticed before? Did the flavors pop more than usual? If you enjoy journaling, this could be an ideal time to journal about your experience.
Extending Mindful Eating into Mindful Living
As you practice mindful eating, you may notice that the calm, intentional, and nonjudgmental practices may overflow to everyday life. Other ways to practice mindful living include:
Doing a daily mindfulness meditation
Mindfully walking (noticing the trees, sounds, birds — all of your surroundings and how they make you feel)
Noticing your breath and perhaps intentionally taking some deep breaths throughout the day
Using any of these practices can help to develop a mindful approach to living by bringing full attention to each moment, without judgment, while maintaining a feeling of calm.
Here’s an example of a 5-minute mindfulness meditation practice that you may want to try if this is new to you:
Choose a comfortable place to sit. Find an object to fix your gaze. This can be the rain outside, a candle flame or colorful flowers (something that makes you feel at ease inside). You may pay special attention to the sounds, colors, aromas, engaging all of your senses as you gaze on this object. Practice this for five minutes. Once you’re done, notice how your senses may be heightened and you’re more aware. This practice may help to improve focus, reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, slow aging, and support healthy metabolism.
Do you have a mindfulness practice? If so, how has it changed your life? If you don’t currently have a practice and would like to give this one a try just for 7 days, please share your experience!