At this time of crisis do you find yourself mindlessly eating too much and unhealthy foods out of boredom, anxiety, uncertainty, overwhelm, habit, or just being around food all day? Have you desperately attempted to force yourself to avoid eating only to binge later? What is the solution? Not willpower. Willpower is a muscle that tires more and more, all day long, and poops out on your when you need it the most. Familiar?
The antidote to mindless eating is mindful eating. Why? Because it short circuits the mindlessness and brings your habitual eating habits into conscious awareness. And it has other benefits too, such as reducing overall stress.
Sounds good, but how does one mindfully eat?
I have studied mindfulness for many years and have practiced many different techniques to make my eating more mindful, with varied success. Recently I’ve discovered some new ideas to integrate into my practices to make them extremely powerful. One source: I am currently taking a wonderful course through Dr. Jud Brewer’s app, “Eat Right Now” and am learning how to break my own unhealthy habit patterns. (Liking it so far!) I’ve worked some of those new insights into my own knowledge, experience, and practice, and I’ve come up with a practical, step by step method of making a meal fully mindful, to help myself and others in these difficult times.
Following is my gift to you, a practice I have created, partly inspired by Dr. Brewer’s program, as well as other mindfulness books and courses I have read/taken, and particularly Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful little volume How to Eat.
This is a practice to use when you have some time time and quiet and would like to begin making a change in your eating habits and relationship to your food and yourself. I encourage you to use the entire practice for an entire meal for a breakfast at least once, to set the tone for your day. I urge you to do all the steps, at least one time. Stay focused on eating for the entire meal and do not allow yourself distracting reading, scrolling, watching etc until you’ve finished your last bite, taken another breath and paid attention to the experience. Then you can go back to life as usual. Once you’ve had the full experience, you can continue mindful breakfasts, snacks, or whatever works in your schedule using the whole practice or any parts that particularly resonate with you.
Note that the more you practice, the more you notice, the more intentional your relationship with food becomes. Thus you can make healthy changes to your eating habits rather painlessly. If you are still struggling and could use some one on one help, I’d be happy to be your virtual health coach. Contact me for more information.
Rachel’s Fully Mindful Meal Practice
- Lovingly prepare your food, or at least plate it attractively!
- Sit down at a table with your food and turn off all distractions: phone, computer, schedule, tv, audiobook, podcast, social media, etc.
- Take a few intentional slow breaths to slow down and prepare for food.
- You may want to read an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful little volume of readings on mindful eating, How to Eat, and ponder this as you begin, and throughout the meal.
- Notice first your body. What does it feel like sitting in your chair? What internal sensations arise? Note especially your abdomen. What sensations are there?
- Rate your hunger on a scale of 0-10; 0 being totally empty, 10 being stuffed (uncomfortably so).
- Notice, now, your food. What does it look like? Colors, textures, shapes, plating?
- Smell the food. (Go ahead, stick your nose in it. Smile!)
- Notice your body’s reactions and your emotions and thoughts at the sight and smell of the food, if any. Do you feel pleasant anticipation? Gratitude? Can you smile at your food?
- Pick up your fork or spoon and raise a bite to your mouth.
- Notice all the sensations of eating that first bite: the texture and temperature and taste in your mouth and on your tongue, your mouth’s reaction to the food.
- Put your utensil down and chew the bite thoroughly. Notice what this is like. Notice any thoughts or emotions coming up. (Hunger, impatience, curiosity, delight, distracting thoughts).
- Swallow, seeing if you can trace the food’s progress down your throat, into your esophagus and into the stomach. See if you can even notice the feelings and reactions in your stomach as this first morsel of food lands.
- As you continue to eat, attempt to follow the steps of noticing the food in your mouth, chewing well, and tracing the bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts. Be sure to put the utensil downafter each bite.
- Every several bites, check in, particularly with your level of hunger.
- If your mind wanders, keep bringing it back to eating, especially the pleasure of eating.
- If it helps you might consider the following thoughts:
- The health of the food you are eating. How is it physically nourishing, improving your health and energizing your body?
- The amazing journey the food took all the way from seed (for instance) to your plate. The people who put in the work and love to bring this food to you.
- The love you put into making/plating this food for yourself.
- Thanking yourself for going through the challenge of eating a mindful meal.
- Noticing the emotions and associations that come up for you with this meal. Not judging, just noticing.
- Notice the environment in which you are eating, and with whom, if anyone. Notice how these affect your experience of eating.
- When you feel comfortable but not quite full (7 on hunger scale, perhaps), stop eating.
- Take a cleansing breath. Notice how you feel physically and emotionally. What was the effect of eating this particular meal. Smile!
- Put away your food and take care of the dishes, and table too, if time.