Studies have shown that increasing mindfulness through intentional mindful eating, and/or a meditation practice, can significantly improve physical health and quality of life. In one study, episodes of binge eating were decreased from an average of greater than 4 times per week, to less than 1.5 times per week. Additionally, in this same study, participants who had been diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) no longer met diagnostic criteria for the disorder after implementing a mindfulness practice. Many more studies support that there is a correlation between mindfulness and healthy living.
Now that you have been convinced, you are likely wondering where to begin your mindfulness practice. Well, here is a quick crash course that will help you get started…
Mindful eating suggests that you implement the following:
1. Eat when you are hungry. It may take a while to learn the way your individual body communicates to you, but do your best. It will get easier – the messages will become clearer. Do your best to avoid eating out of boredom, stress, discomfort, sadness, celebration – anything other than true physiological hunger. If you are struggling with hearing your body’s requests for fuel, expect to require nourishment every 3 to 5 hours.
2. Eat until you are satisfied… not until your gut begs you for mercy. This means not necessarily eating until your plate is empty. Conversely, sometimes you may have planned to eat only a certain amount of food, and it might turn out to not be enough. So pay attention to your body’s signals, and eat until your body tells you it’s satisfied.
3. Avoid multitasking during meals. Set aside a time when you will eat (including both meals and snacks), and turn off other distractions. Common distractions include watching television, reading, working, listening to the radio/podcasts, and many others. Think of the time you allocate to eating as time for only that, and stick to your schedule the best you can.
Step by Step
Now you are ready to try out this mindful eating thing! Grab yourself something tasty, sit down, and begin as follows…
1. Prepare your meal. Food should be arranged in front of you. You should sit down at a table.
2. Turn off as many distractions as possible. Shut the TV or radio. Put down the book or magazine. Shut down the computer for a few minutes. Allow yourself to be fully present with your food
3. Ground yourself. Put both feet on the ground. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. You may want to repeat a mantra to yourself, reminding you to stay present, and not let the past or future into this time between you and your body.
4. Allow all your senses to experience this moment. Look at your food. Identify the colors and shapes on your plate in front of you. Smell your food. Is it a familiar smell? Take your first bite, and savor it. Take the time to chew your food, and notice the mouth feel and flavors of this particular item.
5. Go slowly. Throughout your meal, try to take your time. It may be helpful to set a timer, and pace yourself. You might allow 15 to 20 minutes to complete your meal. Taking sips of water between bites also often helps slow us down.
And there you go! If you are brand new to mindful eating, try this out for one meal a day, and increase gradually. If during your meal, you find yourself becoming distracted, don’t be discouraged. Mindful eating takes time to master, and you will get there if you practice it on a daily basis. If you find external thoughts creeping in during the meal, envision yourself in a bubble. The bubble doesn’t allow anything in that doesn’t have to do with the here and now. Let the bubble protect you as it serves as a shield against distraction.
Do you have experience with mindful eating? We would love to hear about it! Please leave questions and comments below!