We are all guilty of it at times: arriving home from work, exhausted, fixing ourselves a plate of whatever happens to be in the fridge, curling up in our favourite armchair and before we know it… our plate is empty.
We have no recollection of the events between the first forkful and the last, not only have we lost that ten minutes of our day but we are also left feeling unsatisfied. This is when the second trip to the kitchen occurs, a much less controlled version; we aren’t going to make a whole new meal but instead go about slathering some butter onto a slice of bread or grabbing a bag of nuts.
We return to our perch in front of the television and pop an almond into our mouth before scrolling through our phones: our friend’s engagement photos on Facebook, an email thread from work. Once again our food is finished: what did it taste like? Did we enjoy it? Did we need it? The truth is we probably don’t know, because we were not eating mindfully. We wouldn’t start using our phone in the middle of Downward Facing Dog, or start watching our favourite television show while in Mountain Pose, so why do we allow ourselves to do it while eating?
Mindfulness Leads to Positive Change
By really taking the time to enjoy what we eat, we can allow it to nourish us by chewing slowly and methodically, monitoring the responses within our bodies and appreciating each mouthful so that we finish our food feeling satisfied and fully aware of the journey from first forkful to last. It’s all too easy in our busy lives to fall into autopilot: the same way we sometimes find ourselves driving to the wrong place because our body knows this route so well. Eating can become guilt-inducing — almost a feeding frenzy which leaves us reeling afterward as we come to our full senses again. If we fail to pay attention we miss out on all the joy that comes with eating and fall into bad habits like overeating.
Mindful eating is about self-love, helping us to resolve troubled and complex relationships with food and the love-hate relationship that we may all struggle with on a daily basis. Many of the reactions we have to food are mindlessly governed by triggers, thoughts, feelings and patterns that have become ingrained in us over the years: guilt-eating, emotional-eating, eating due to boredom. This cycle is very hard to break if we’re not paying attention. We are powerless to make changes to our diets unless we know what, when and where these changes need to take place. Mindful eating is about waking up and without judgement, becoming aware of these patterns and their effect on us.
Once we have noticed them, we can begin to view them as a separate entity to ourselves: creating space between the trigger and our actions. It is important to do so with self-compassion, our bodies and minds have spent years building up these patterns to protect us in some way. They may have once served a purpose but now they are obsolete, we are simply going through the motions and this is what causes the damage.
See Also: A Mindful Mouthful
An Easy Way to Get Started
A simple way to begin eating mindfully is with the question, “Am I hungry?” Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if what we’re feeling is truly hunger or if something else is compelling us to eat. If we ask ourselves this question whenever the urge to eat arises we can be sure that whenever we do sit down to a meal, it is because our body is in need of the nourishment our food brings, and not to mask a deeper feeling or fill some time. If the answer is no, be aware of what could have triggered the thought in the first place: what are you feeling, where are you, who are you with?
If the answer is yes, try to make time to sit down and eat in silence. Eating one meal a day in this way can allow for these mindful habits to permeate your other meals even if eating alone or in silence isn’t possible. You’ll find you begin to enjoy your food more, notice what your body needs and eat the right foods to fuel it, and that those feelings of guilt, loathing or dissatisfaction begin to disappear.
The Raisin Meditation
Take a raisin (or chocolate, or hard sweet) and place it in the palm of your hand. Carefully examine it, moving through the five senses:
- Sight: Look at your raisin, and notice anything particular about it. Is it particularly long, fat or wrinkly? What colour is it? Does it bring forward a memory?
- Touch: Feel it with your fingers, notice how it feels on your hand, squeeze it gently between your thumb and forefinger.
- Smell: Bring the raisin up to your nose. What does it smell like? Does it have a smell at all? What effects does the smell have on your body — does it begin to awaken your taste buds or saliva glands?
- Hearing: Bring the raisin to your ear and gently squeeze it between your fingers, does it make any sound?
- Taste: Place it on your tongue, noticing how it feels against the roof of your mouth, lips and teeth. Begin to chew itslowly and carefully, noticing the different flavours and textures. When you swallow, try and feel the raisin slip down your throat and into your stomach — notice where it goes and the feelings it leaves in your mouth even once it is gone.
It Pays to Pay Attention
I will leave you with a story my mindfulness tutor once told me about a monk, who every day for twenty years ate rice and beans. When asked by a student how he managed to eat the same thing for every meal and not get bored he replied, “I pay attention, I am mindful of everything and because of this no meal is ever the same. The ratio of rice to beans in my mouth is always different, the way I am feeling is constantly changing, the flavour that comes from the bean changes every time and the way it mixes with the rice as I chew to create different tastes continues to intrigue me.” It is not what we eat, it is how we eat that makes the difference.