5 techniques to practice mindful eating
We’ve all been there. A stressful day at work, an argument with someone you care about, or simply a low mood can have you reaching for the biscuit tin – and before you know it you’ve ploughed your way through a whole packet. Chances are, it’s left you feeling worse.
The mind-body connection
It’s probably a familiar picture. But have you ever stopped to think about that connection between your moods and your eating habits?
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and the two can often affect each other. Stress, anxiety, boredom and other negative emotions (and sometimes even positive ones) can all affect our eating patterns, but it’s not often that we pay close attention to the interplay of mood and food.
Taking some time to examine your mental habits around food can help you identify patterns and unpick any bad habits you might have – perhaps ones you hadn’t even noticed. The good news is that there’s a simple way to do just that – it’s time to give mindful eating a try.
So what is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a concept that’s gaining ground as experts encourage us to move away from fad diets to healthier and more sustainable lifestyle changes.
Based on the practice of mindfulness – what Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre calls “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgement” – mindful eating brings that awareness to our experience of food, encouraging us to enter into a conscious, considered relationship with what we eat and how we’re eating it.
Guilt and judgement are out – there are no “bad” foods, just as there’s no virtue to abstaining from the things we enjoy. Rather, we’re encouraged to simply observe our emotions and physical sensations when we eat and tune in to how that makes us feel.
A mindful eating approach can result in weight loss, improved wellbeing – and turn the everyday act of eating into a truly pleasurable experience. So next time you head to the fridge, try our tips for more mindful eating.
1) Focus on food.
Turning on the news with your noodles? Here’s some food for thought: a 2013 study found that multitasking – like working or watching TV – while eating resulted in increased calorie intake at mealtimes, while those who turned off the TV and focused on their food tended to eat less overall. Making mealtimes a ritual and stepping away from your screen or desk can have a big impact on health and wellbeing.
2) Listen to your body.
All too often, we eat out of habit, or boredom. Our bodies are good at sending us signals when we need to eat – but how often do we tune in to them? Before you tuck in, try taking a pause to check in with how your body’s feeling, and ask yourself: “Am I really hungry? Do I really want this?”
Of course, the answer might be yes – in which case, go for it! But if you find it’s not hunger that’s propelling you to the fridge, try and listen in to figure out what else might be going on. If you’re bored or feeling low, try a new strategy, like calling a friend or taking a walk. The key is to tune into what your body is really asking for, instead of going through the motions just because it’s lunch time.
3) Experimentation is key.
Yes, we were always told not to play with our food. But experimenting with different ways of eating, or setting little challenges, can be a great way to practice mindful eating.
If you know you tend to bolt your food, why not set yourself a timer and aim to savour your lunch over twenty minutes, instead of ten? Some mindful eating advocates suggest tricks like eating with your non-dominant hand or using chopsticks to slow you down and encourage greater focus on the process.
4) Appreciate what’s on your plate.
When you think about it, the journey food has gone through to get from farm to fork is an impressive feat – so take a moment to respect all the work and energy that’s gone into it. Pause before you dig in to appreciate the colours and smells of your meal. As you chew each mouthful, notice and savour all the different textures and flavours.
5) Go easy on yourself.
Everyone’s learned all sorts of habits and behaviours around food over the years – from family and friends, advertising, magazines, the diet industry. It’s not always easy to make healthy choices, and there’ll be times when we do fall back into old habits. Mindful eating includes accepting that we’ll have setbacks – and dealing with them without guilt or judgement when they occur, ready to try again next time.
Mindfulness is one of the techniques we get you to experiment with on the OurPath programme. When you eat more mindfully, you’re more likely to really enjoy your food, and identify foods and habits that make you feel your best. A simple technique that can go a long way towards improving health, wellbeing and weight loss? That sounds like a recipe for success.
Read more about the OurPath programme.