Have you every really tasted a strawberry?
Have you ever truly noticed the texture of a piece of chocolate? Or the flavor of it?
If you haven’t — and if you tend to overeat, eat emotionally or compulsively — you’re missing out on one of the most beautiful sides of life: the colors, flavors, textures, sounds and feelings you can — and should — experience when you put food into your mouth.
This concept of being truly present is called mindful eating. I’ve been doing a lot of research on this topic and it has led me down a few fascinating paths.
Basically, there are two ways of describing the practice of mindful eating.
It is the process of noticing what you eat (aka. paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food.) and it describes the practice of eating what you want, when you want.
Mindful eating — is it even possible?
There are a lot of polarizing views on eating mindfully and whether it is even possible for us human beings living in this crazy world.
Dr. Brian Wansink, the author of Mindless Eating — Why We Eat More than We Think, writes about his research regarding the way we relate to food. He shares the many reasons we don’t — and supposedly can’t — eat mindfully, why our stomachs can’t think, how we’re being manipulated by the food industry, how we use external clues to figure out our hunger and satiation levels and more.
If you listen to his research, we are nothing more than machines, operating on autopilot, having completely lost trust in our own abilities to experience hunger and fullness, satiation and lust.
On the other hand, Geneen Roth talks about our innate ability to eat mindfully, giving our bodies what they want, when they want it and therefor arriving at our natural weight and staying there. She knows what she’s talking about as she’s recovered from several eating disorders and has helped tens of thousands of women doing the same.
And in fact, Dr. Wansink shares that 3-year-olds *know* when they’re hungry and full, totally neglecting external cues and relying on their inner wisdom for guidance.
But then, by the time we’re five years old, we’ve already lost that beautiful way of relating to food and instead of looking inward, we’re focusing on the outside.
It’s sad, but it’s also hopeful because it clearly shows that we do have the ability to relate to food in an easy, light way. We just have to find our way back to it.
How do we do that?
How do we go back to that beautiful place of self-trust? We start small with these ten simple steps.
1. Focus, focus, focus.
Put the computer away. Silence the phone. Turn off the TV and don’t eat while driving in the car. The less distractions the better!
2. Eat in silence.
Eating in silence might be scary for some, but it’ll definitely enhance your experience of food and nourishing your body. Try it at least once and see how your senses perceive eating on a completely new level.
3. Eat alone.
Taking step number 2 a little bit further, try to eat alone at least once a week.
4. Sit down!
Or as Geneen Roth would say: “When you eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair… ” Make it a rule to only eat whenever you’re sitting down. This gives you space for pause and reflection and also keeps you from eating out of habit or when you’re bored.
5. Concentrate on what is in your mouth, not on your plate.
Gulping down handfuls of food in minus three seconds is part of emotional eating, but you can stop it by focusing on each mouthful of food. Really notice the texture, the flavor, the way it feels in your mouth, the temperature and the sounds it makes when you bite into it. Try to stay in the present moment and become truly aware of what is going on in your mouth.
Do you even like what you’re eating? Does it even taste?
When you’re in the zone, you don’t chew. Try to change that by actively focusing on the process of chewing.
7. Use forks and knives!
Eating with your hands may be convenient, but it’s also a certain way to overeat. Use your forks and knives and put them down between mouthfuls to give yourself time to chew, taste and experience food.
8. Let go of the need to eat “huge amounts.”
When I circled in the binging/starving cycle, I always thought that once I was healthy, I’d always eat huge amounts of food. However, that’s not true. You need less than you think (that is, once you’re at a healthy weight!) and if you focus on quality instead of quantity, your well-being will improve.
9. Make it a ritual.
Cook for yourself, decorate the table and learn to appreciate the whole process of eating. Remember that eating is not just fuel for your body, but it can also be a wonderful ritual.
10. Start small.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with the notion of needing to do this perfectly today. You’ve been caught in a different world for way too long to be able to move into the realm of mindful eating over night. Give it time and start small. Maybe you want to eat mindfully once every week and then after a month, go up to twice and so on.
Be patient with yourself and practice radical self-compassion in this time of transformation. Incorporating mindful eating into your life will bring up many issues for you, so be especially attentive during those months.