Mindfulness is the ability to be as fully present in the moment as possible without wishing or trying to make it different. In our hectic lives, we often function on “autopilot mode,” floating from one activity to another without even thinking about what we are doing, predisposed by and preoccupied with the past which is long gone and/or a future that is not guaranteed. Eating is one of the activities that we usually rush through and often engage in without being aware of what, how, where and why we are eating.
Enter: Mindful Eating – the intentional act of eating, which requires paying full attention to the experiences of eating and drinking, both inside and outside of the body. This requires being fully aware of and noticing the plentitude of sensations – colours, aromas, flavours, textures, temperatures, and even the sounds – associated with eating and drinking. Furthermore, Mindful Eating requires being conscious of how drinking and eating interact with our minds and our bodies, so as to produce feelings of hunger/satiation/satisfaction etc… Therefore, it is critical to pay attention to how drinking and eating affect our feelings, thoughts and behaviours, as well as, vice versa.
There are many reported benefits of Mindful eating, however I will only touch on a few of the main ones. Firstly, Mindful eating allows us to enjoy the experiences of eating and drinking, which is a pleasure that is natural and should be celebrated at every opportunity and meal. When I was first introduced to Mindful Eating, it not only transformed my eating and drinking experiences (because it felt as if I upgraded to a new sensorial level, which I was likely always privileged to, but which I forfeited by default when I gave into distractions!), but by choosing to be conscious and aware, with regards to my eating and drinking, rather than distracted by watching TV or talking on the phone simultaneously, I was able to regain a sense of control, vis-a-vis my drinking and eating habits, which then contributed further to healthier eating habits (which are almost never driven by emotions, habits or “auto-pilot mode” anymore!).
I will write more about Mindful Eating as soon as I can but for now, here are some:
Mindful Eating Exercises to Get You Started
1 ) Eat a Chocolate Almond Mindfully (or you can choose an equivalent sized food item):
As you begin this exercise, imagine that this is the first time in your life that you have ever encountered a chocolate almond.
Hold the chocolate almond between your index finger and thumb. Move the chocolate almond between your fingers (careful not to let it melt), exploring its texture. Then close your eyes for 15 seconds and notice any changes you experience in your sense of touch as you continue to move the chocolate almond between your fingers.
Now open your eyes and take time to really look at and focus on the chocolate almond. Explore every part of it as you move it around your fingers, noticing any remarkable characteristics, where the light reflects on it, its rich brown colour etc….
Then bring the chocolate almond 1-2 inches away from under your nose. Take 2-3 deep inhalations and with each inhalation, draw in the aroma of the chocolate almond. Pay attention to anything different that may occur in your mouth or in your stomach as you take in the fragrance.
Now, slowly bring the chocolate almond up to your mouth. Take a moment, be AMAZED at how your hand and arm work together to find exactly how and where to place the chocolate almond, even if/when your eyes are closed! Place the chocolate almond in your mouth, but don’t take a bite yet! Notice the sensations of having it in your mouth, and then explore it with your tongue.
When you’re ready to chew the chocolate almond, take a moment to notice how and where it needs to be positioned in your mouth in order for you to chew it. Take the first bite very consciously and take a moment before the next bite to assess the sensations in your body. Experience the taste that emanates and then continue to chew slowly and notice any sounds. Before you swallow, notice the taste and texture in your mouth and how they have changed over time, as well as physical changes in the chocolate almond as you chewed it. When you are ready to swallow, see if you can detect the intention to swallow when it arises so that you are consciously swallowing the chocolate almond rather. Notice and feel what is left of the chocolate almond as it moves down your throat and then into your stomach. Take a moment to reflect on how your body feels after completing this exercise as well as any thoughts that may have arisen as you completed the exercise in mindful eating.
2) Commit to eating an entire meal alone, in silence without any distractions. Practise the strategies in 1) and then at the end of your meal, reflect on how this experience was similar to and different from the experience you had while eating the meal before the one you ate alone, in silence and without any distractions. If you want, you can read or watch TV but make sure to alternate taking bites mindfully and reading a paragraph/page or watching a few minutes mindfully rather than simultaneously engaging in both activities.
3) At your next family meal, suggest that everyone begin the meal by eating in silence for the first 5-10 minutes. Encourage everyone to acknowledge the meal that is being offered and the efforts required for it to be made available for everyone to enjoy in addition to paying attention to their senses as they consume their food and beverages in silence. You can even debrief what this experience felt like after the designated time period ends or save it for dessert!
Good luck on your practise and please feel free to comment on your experiences below 🙂