What’s for Lunch? Tips on Practicing Mindful Eating
When did you eat your last meal? Who cooked the meal? You know the answers to these questions, though you may recollect more vividly the conversations that came across your phone screen while you ate, or the reality TV show you binged on as you plowed through dinner. There may have been a few exchanges at the table with your family, but did you spend a moment while eating becoming aware of yourself and your feelings toward the food? This question suddenly feels like a big ask.
Mindful eating, like meditation, requires you to have a moment of calm. How can sitting down at the table while hungrily chowing down a meal also resemble meditation and mindfulness?
Mindful eating doesn’t have to be a laborious process; a simple shift of focus can help you tap the benefits of this healthy habit. And you don’t need to be mindful through the meal.
“A simple mindful eating exercise can be done with any meal,” says Diana Winston, director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, and author of “The Little Book of Being.” She adds, “If you have time, you could do it for the whole meal or you can just do it with the first few bites.”
Here’s How You Can Practice Mindful Eating:
Notice — Quality Over Quantity
We eat three or more meals a day and have done that for our whole lives, so it is only natural we have lots of habits around food and eating. The main thing around mindfulness is bringing awareness into these habits. Appreciating your food is vital for mindful eating, according to RoundGlass mindfulness teacher Vishvapani Blomfield. He says, “We naturally live our lives quite a lot, on autopilot, and develop habits of not noticing. In that state of not noticing, there is a lost opportunity for enjoyment. When we are not appreciating and enjoying, we then tend to think more of quantity rather than the quality of food.”
Be Curious About Your Food
Noticing the texture, flavor, and presentation of a meal gives you time to reflect. You don’t have to analyze each ingredient but noticing the food’s journey to your table can help you appreciate it better. “You might take a moment to reflect on where the food came from, the history of farmers and others who contributed to the food being there on your plate,” says Winston. “Take a bite slowly, with your eyes closed if possible. Chew slowly, noticing all the flavors, textures, sounds, changes in your mouth. Notice also what’s happening in your mind — are you wanting to take another bite immediately? Are you enjoying it? Are you comparing it to other foods you have eaten in the past? Try a few bites tuned into yourself in this way.”
Hungry or Bored? Check In On Your Feelings, Social Cues
The curiosity with mindful eating is centered on “what’s going on with me.” The mindful moment is a great time to be curious about those feelings. “One of my things over the years is snacking. I have noticed that when I am sitting at my computer, I often take a break and go down to the kitchen, however, what I want is a bit of stimulation. I may be hungry so I may choose to eat biscuits, etc. What I learned to do is ask myself, ‘what do I need right now? Is it food because I am hungry or do I need stimulation?’ If I need stimulation because I am bored, I don’t need biscuits, maybe I can walk around the garden, explains Blomfield. “This is about acknowledging the feelings that go with food.”
The questions we need to ask ourselves often is — Why do I want to eat this thing? Is it because I am hungry? Is it because it was cooked specially for me, and I don’t want to be rude to my host? Answering these questions can bring about mindfulness and help you in making a wiser food choice.
Don’t Serve Up Guilt (Be Kind to Yourself)
Eating is completely normal. Eating is human. But there are moments when we can make it complicated. You can look for pleasure in food, it can serve as a reward. And if you mindfully combine it with things that are good for you nutritionally and portion wisely, you will be rewarded for this effort wholistically. But if you do slip up from a healthy pattern, it’s OK.
“When you are guilty, just notice that. Notice the feeling and that takes its power away,” underlines Blomfield. “We will never be this perfect eater who always gets it right and never eats anything wrong. That is a fantasy we can only imagine someone else doing.”
Winston believes that paying close attention with curiosity, and most importantly, not judging the experience can help. She says, “We often have a lot of critical voices in our head, and they can show up around food. If they arise, simply notice them, and redirect your attention back to the sensations of eating.”
Mindful Eating — For All at the Table?
The dining table is a place of joy, and when you try “mindful eating” it doesn’t have to be a gloomy, deathly quiet affair. “In my family we try to take a mindful breath together before we eat. Kids love mindful eating. You can introduce it deliberately as a kind of game — what did you notice? What animals, plants, farmers helped with this food, etc.” says Winston.
All families are different, and the idea of mindfulness may not flow easily with older kids or adults. It is hard to get people to do what you want; the best way, however, is the simplest: Do it yourself. “One of the main ways we can influence other people and our families is by our own example. I think it is possible to be mindful while eating in a mixed situation without being weird and when people see you are taking your time, appreciating the food, noticing it, enjoying it — then that example has an effect,” says Blomfield.
So, the next time you try mindful eating, even if only for a minute at the start of your meal, take up space to feel gratitude and acknowledge the food, one bite at a time.
Try this RoundGlass meditation class, Eating with Awareness, with expert Vishvapani Blomfield.