These days, we hear a lot about how we need to stress less, enjoy life more, slow down and bring more awareness to our daily activities. And what a great idea this truly is. But what many fail to notice is that under the heading of slowing down, stressing less, and relaxing more includes eating. Not everyone sees eating as a nourishing activity. We often think of it as fuel to keep going during our busy day, and often something that we’re not willing to slow down for and truly enjoy. It’s no wonder that mindlessness is a tough habit to break when it comes to our meals.
So, how do you know when you’ve been eating mindlessly?
Let’s start with some qualifying descriptions:
- When you’re not tasting what you’re eating
- When you’re not in tune to your body’s “hungry” or “full” signals
- When you’re eating quickly
- When you’re eating on the run
- When you’re eating while watching TV, or reading, or while using a phone, computer or tablet
- When you’re eating simply because it’s there
- When you’re eating from boredom, out of habit, or trying to escape an emotional state
See any familiar behaviors here? These are all keys and reminders that you’re not really where you think are. We live with distractions and full plates in so many other areas of our lives. So we’re often told how important it is to multitask, and be the most efficient we can in the smallest space of time possible. With eating, however, the opposite is true. This is where slow is powerful. The more we can be present with this most important daily activity, the better off we’ll be. So what does mindful eating even look like?
- When you’re able to notice the taste of your meal
- When you’re chewing well while eating
- When you’re sitting down to eat, vs. standing, walking, driving
- When you’re able to experiencing the pleasure of eating
- When you’re able to slow down while eating
- When you’re able to appreciate the smell, texture and colors of our food
- When you’re able to notice the awakening your senses while eating
- When you’re able to make conscious food choices that support your body
- When you’re able to listen and respond to the “full” and “hungry” signals of your body.
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When reviewing these lists, three things seem to come into focus. And each one is important to help move us from mindless to mindful eating. They are:
- Awareness of food and body
Now let’s go a little deeper into each of these:
Slowing down while we eat is the foundation to mindful eating. When we eat quickly – we are much less likely to fully enjoy our food or even remember what it tasted like – and we become more likely to eat more than our body truly needs. When we eat slowly, our stomach has the necessary time to convey an “I’m full” message to our brain, which in turn gives us a better chance of ending our meal when we are sated, as opposed to when our plate is clean. Eating quickly also inhibits the “cephalic phase response” – which is the first step in our digestive process – and triggers the release of digestive enzymes that are needed to break down our food. Taking time to eat is the first opportunity we have to open up the door to mindful eating.
If slowing down is the door to mindful eating, then awareness is turning on the lights. When we bring conscious awareness to our meal, we allow for conscious choices. Awareness is all about noticing. We want to notice our food, our environment, our company, our level of hunger, or thirst. When we can slow down and bring our awareness to our food and the activity of eating, then we can make choices that support our intentions to be healthy and respectful of our body and its needs.
3 – Pleasure:
Once the lights of awareness are on, we can get put on some mood music, and that means stepping into the realm of pleasure. While we are so often taught to be wary of too much of a good thing, when we bring pleasure to our eating experience, we are inviting our senses to the table. By tuning in to pleasure, we heighten the sensual experience of eating – the taste, texture and aromas of our food become more pronounced. Pleasure draws us into the moment, it brings our mind and body to our moment. When we invite pleasure to the table we are welcoming mindfulness, and supporting our health as well.
Tapping into pleasure helps our body shift into a relaxation response, which supports digestion, assimilation and elimination. Pleasure gives our body both a physiological and nutritional boost.
Whenever we choose to walk through the door beyond our past conditioned behaviors, whenever we enter into mindful eating by slowing down, by tuning into the moment with our awareness and bringing a relaxed state to our meal, we can have a whole new experience of eating. Sometimes you need to be more than just mindful, sometimes soulful eating is required.
Just these three activities allow us to truly enjoy a meal and create a positive and mindful relationship with our body and the food that sustains us. It’s a relationship like any other, and when we neglect it or disrespect it, we end up stressed, distracted, and feeling unsupported in life. By embracing it, we can change our nutritional world. Enjoying life is dependent on being present to experience it. Why not start with what’s on your dinner plate?
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018