Practicing mindfulness is known to be a good way to manage anxiety, stress, and other overwhelming emotions. Many people use it to bring joy and gratitude into their day-to-day lives – and studies show that it can help us to manage issues such as depression. This practice of being in the present, engaging all the senses, and expressing gratitude can be helpful in many other ways, however. Learning to eat mindfully is quickly becoming a way to overcome the toxic and hurtful habits associated with diet culture.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
Because mindful eating encourages us to change the way we view food, and our bodies, it has many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. By embracing the many experiences that come with different types of food, embracing the joy they can bring, and appreciating the nourishment, mindful eating can:
- Help us to realize when we are hungry, rather than stressed or tired.
- Improve digestion.
- Reduce stress.
- Prevent or limit the way we judge ourselves based on the food we eat.
- Help with weight loss (especially for those who eat in response to emotion).
- Allow us to fully appreciate the unique flavors, benefits, and textures of our food.
If you want to start practicing mindfulness when you eat, remember that changing your approach to food can take time. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself of the seven practices of mindful eating.
The Seven Practices of Mindful Eating
Just as the general practice of mindfulness has some basic concepts that guide us, mindful eating has seven practices that encourage us to enter a present and aware state when we eat. The seven practices are:
1. Appreciate the food in front of you
Acknowledge the work that goes into the food you eat, the time it takes to grow or prepare, and eat without distractions, giving your full focus to the moment. You must be present in the experience to eat mindfully.
2. Engage all five senses to eat mindfully
Food is so much more than fuel. Take some time to notice the smell, the colors, the texture, and the sounds associated with your meal, as well as the taste of the food. Notice how it makes you feel; this will help you to pick up hunger and satiation cues.
3. Serve small portions
Be aware of how much food you need, and serve small portions. You can always serve or request more if you are still hungry, but loading your plate can dull the experience and lead to unhealthy weight gain.
4. Take small bites and chew well
Don’t overfill your mouth; take small, comfortable bites and chew each mouthful thoroughly. This allows you to experience and appreciate the whole range of flavors, but also allows time for your body to register the food you are giving it.
5. Eat at a slow pace
When you eat, even if you are very hungry, take your time. When we eat quickly, we often fail to notice the flavor and texture of the food. This means we miss out on much of the experience. Eating too quickly can also lead to digestive upsets, stomach aches, and weight gain, as it is harder for your body to tell you that you are full in proper time.
6. Don’t skip meals
Remember that you do not need to “earn” sustenance. Skipping meals is not an effective way to manage weight and will increase fatigue and stress. Try to set a routine for your meals and plan ahead. This will allow you to make balanced choices and help maintain energy all day.
7. Consider the impact of your meals
Eating mindfully means being mindful of the wider world, as well as your own body. Many people who practice mindful eating prefer a mostly or entirely plant-based diet, because of the impact of industrial meat and dairy farming. However, you can eat meat and still eat mindfully; all you have to do is make the choices that you feel are best and be aware of the impact that your meals have on the world.
7 Ways to Eat Mindfully Every Day
These seven tenets encourage thoughtfulness, gratitude, and compassion (both for our bodies and the planet as a whole), but some can seem vague.
There are very simple steps you can take to be mindful while you eat, however:
1. Eat locally produced foods
When eating out or buying ingredients to cook, consider locally produced options. Food sourced or produced in your local area is more environmentally friendly, and considering this will help you to appreciate the impact of each meal.
More than this, however, local regions tend to have specialties and unique options that represent their culture and history. You could find foods you might never have tried before!
2. Choose a balanced diet
A balanced diet is not just better for your body; it offers a range of tastes, textures, and colors to appreciate. Mixing up your usual eating habits is a great way to introduce mindfulness to your meals.
Think about how the different ingredients on your plate come together, how they complement each other, and how they contrast each other to anchor yourself in the moment.
3. Put your cutlery down between bites
Distracted eating, which is the common term for the opposite of mindful eating, is often quick and disconnected. Don’t put bite after bite into your mouth; put your cutlery down and savor each bite. This will help you to eat slowly, but also encourage you to feel and experience each bite, giving your body time to process it and let you know when you are full.
4. Try to taste each ingredient in a meal
Many wonderful dishes contain ‘hidden’ ingredients that are not immediately visible, but contribute to the flavor. When you eat, try to pick out these ingredients – what can you taste? Ingredients like garlic, onion, herbs, and spices go unseen, but create huge tastes that grab attention. Appreciate those hidden ingredients and what they bring to your meal.
5. Don’t eat in front of a screen
While conversation over dinner is pleasant and can be helpful in mindful eating, TVs, social media, and phone calls pull focus away from eating. Try to limit distractions when you eat, so that you can be fully present in the moment. Doing this will not only help you to be more in tune with your body when you eat, but will deepen the experience of your meal.
6. Try new foods regularly
When something is familiar, it can be easy to become distracted. While having certain ‘comfort’ meals is wonderful, trying new foods can really help you to connect with all of your senses and appreciate the vast world of new experiences awaiting you.
Try to eat new or less familiar foods at least once a week and really focus on what you like, or dislike, about them to broaden your palate and get to know your body.
7. Smell and touch ingredients when you cook
Aside from taste, smell and touch are some of our most basic senses. When you cook for yourself, take the time to appreciate how each ingredient smells and feels. The difference in textures and scents can elevate the experience and give you a deeper understanding of how marvelous your meal really is!
These are just some of the ways that you can practice mindful eating every day. The important thing is to really listen to your body and feel gratitude for the wonderful foods you have access to. There is no single way to practice mindful eating; like the foods you enjoy, it is personal. Learn to love food as more than fuel, take joy in each experience, and remember that good food nourishes the soul, as well as the body.