Have you ever found yourself looking at an empty packet of biscuits and wondering how you managed to eat the whole lot without even really noticing? Maybe you were watching TV or deep in conversation with a friend or reading a great book and the next time you looked the biscuit packet was pretty much empty. Now think of a time that you really took your time over your food, savouring every mouthful, paying attention to the way it looked, tasted and smelled.
The latter is referred to as “mindful eating” and it is something we are all being urged to do more of as overeating continues to threaten our health and wellbeing.
Eating mindlessly is a modern-day habit of epidemic proportions. So, as the Christmas holidays begin – traditionally a time of overindulgence and social eating – why not strive to adopt a more mindful approach to your food and experience the many benefits?
How to eat mindfully
Mindful eating is simply paying attention to what you are eating and taking the time to notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations as you eat. It takes a bit of practice as most of us are accustomed to shovelling our food in without really giving it much thought.
One of the first things to do is to slow down and savour the look and smell of the food before you start to eat. Then as you begin putting it into your mouth, notice how it tastes, smells and feels on your tongue. Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions as you are eating. Are you feeling relaxed or tense? Is eating this food a pleasurable experience or is it unpleasant? Is the food healthy or unhealthy? Do you feel good about eating it?
Notice the sensations in your body. How do you feel before you start to eat, when you are hungry? How do these sensations change once you are eating and what does it feel like once you are full?
Maybe try thinking about where the food has come from, who grew it or reared it, where it travelled from and who prepared and cooked it.
Essentially, mindful eating is a bit like meditation. There are no set rules other than to give your attention fully to what you are doing and not allow yourself to be distracted by anything else.
Benefits of mindful eating
There are many benefits to mindful eating, both immediate and longer-term. Eating is more pleasant and satisfying when you give it your full attention and experience food with all of your senses.
If you’ve ever noticed how boring it is to eat when your nose is blocked or how you stopped feeling hungry when you were served something that looked unappetising you will appreciate that eating is multi-sensory, not just something we do with our mouths.
People who master the art of eating mindfully say that:
- You learn to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, which means you no longer overeat.
- You learn to fully appreciate the different flavours and textures of food.
- You notice that unhealthy food doesn’t make you feel all that good and doesn’t have the same complexity of flavour as healthier food.
- When you learn not to overeat, you automatically lose weight.
- You will notice how different foods affect your body and your mood.
- You learn which foods give you the most energy and which make you feel sluggish.
- You will start to unravel some of the emotions that you feel when you eat. Our relationship with food can be complex and mindful eating can help to start understanding it better.
- You will enjoy eating more.
Of course, mindful eating is for life not just for Christmas so if you can master it over the Festive season why not adopt it as a practice for next year and beyond?
Have a very mindful Christmas and a healthy 2019!