Have you ever gone to pick up another piece of that delicious snack you were munching on only to forget you’d finished it? Perhaps you’ve started eating and found you feel out of control and eat till you’re bloated and uncomfortable? Mindful eating is a fantastic tool that can help us regulate our eating, it’s useful for those with and without eating disorders. No matter what our situation, we can find ourselves overeating sometimes and mindful eating is especially useful to help us balance enjoyment and nourishment during or following festive periods.
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism and is about us being aware in the present moment. Mindful eating is when we become fully connected with all the sensations experienced when eating and drinking – we’re in touch with each of our 5 senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, taste.
Why is it useful?
When we’re having the full sensory experience from food and drink we can feel more physically and emotionally satisfied. This can help us balance eating for nourishment and enjoyment without overeating.
This is partly because we’re slowing down which helps us recognise the signals from our hunger hormones. Also, when we’ve been able to take note of the pleasure from our food or drink we feel content rather than dissatisfied and still craving more.
A mindful eating experiment
This can be done at any time and with any food of your choice – I’d recommend using one where you sometimes feel ‘out of control’. This is a moment where you can give yourself permission to start to break the ‘all or nothing’ cycle with this food. Many say it is an “eye opening” experience.
What will I need?
- 5 minutes to yourself
- Someplace quiet to be
- A small portion of your chosen food e.g. a mince pie
What are the steps?
- Have the food in front of you and unwrap it (if required)
- Take a close look – what are the shapes and colours? Can you tell its texture already?
- Lift it up and smell it – try and pick apart the various smells, there may be sweetness, specific spices. There may only be one smell, how strong is it?
- Put the food to your mouth and bite it, listen to the sound(s) it makes as you continue to move it around your mouth. Was it the sound(s) you were expecting, how loud was it?
- As you slowly chew that mouthful, notice the different textures, how quickly does it change as you chew?
- Finally, notice the flavours – what is the strongest one? Does it last long or is it quickly replaced by another? Is the flavour what you expected it to be?
- For each mouthful of that food, repeat steps 2-6.
How to eat a meal mindfully?
For the first 1-2 mouthfuls you may want to try and experience all 5 senses at once. To help this feel easier, try to notice just 1 or 2 senses per mouthful and continue from there. Some other helpful tips to consider on your mindful eating experience include:
- Sitting at the table to eat your meal
- Minimise distractions e.g. no phones, TV, etc (although some background music may be a nice touch!)
- Arrange the table and your plate to bring you joy – if it looks more appealing, you’ll feel more pleasure
- Look at the different foods on your plate – think about what you’re most excited to try first, does it look the same as when you’ve had it before? What is different compared to the other parts of your plate?
- Try and pick out the different smells in front of you, which is your favourite smelling food? If you have something like cinnamon and honey roasted parsnips, can you smell a mixture of sweetness and earthiness?
- Put a forkful of food into your mouth and listen for the noises, perhaps you have some crackling that makes a crunch, or there’s a bit of a slurp if you have some soup.
- As the food moves around your mouth, what are the different textures? Do you have some roast potatoes that are crunchy on the outside but fluffy on the inside?
- Which is the flavour you first notice, and which is the one you’ve been most excited for? Is there a particular flavour that lingers like a slight saltiness from a gravy?
- Take your time to chew each mouthful, only putting food on to your cutlery when you’ve swallowed.
- When you’ve finished what’s on your plate, take note of your stomach and see how full or empty it feels.
- Being ‘finished’ is a mixture of feeling comfortably full, and satisfied you’ve tasted or experienced the foods you’ve wanted to.
- After you and others have finished eating, try to clear the food from the table or to move away from the table.
If you feel as though you are struggling with managing your eating, book here to see me at The Gut Health Clinic where I’d be happy to help with personalised advice!
If you or someone you care about would like extra information about eating difficulties such as binge-eating disorder, the eating disorder charity BEAT has lots of helpful resources including how to seek a diagnosis and treatment: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
“Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat” – by Joseph B Nelson. Published in the Diabetes Spectrum journal, August 2017. Weblink to article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/