by Hannah de Gruchy
Modern life. It can feel pretty hectic, can’t it? We run from one task to the next, be that work, childcare, having a social life, fitting in the gym or eating. In today’s modern world, we’re never more than a click away from the office, our friends or hours of entertainment. We plug our minds into our phones and the hours fly by. Then we find ourselves stressing, rushing, multitasking and probably making mistakes.
When hunger rears its head, its so tempting, and easy, to reach for the quickest thing. Snacks, junk food, fast food, leftovers… anything! We find ourselves eating everywhere; in front of the TV, walking down the street, leaning over the steering wheel… I mean, who hasn’t brushed crumbs off their keyboard?
All of this mindless eating can have a huge impact on our physical and mental health. That’s why it’s so important to slow down, appreciate our surroundings and enjoy what we’re eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is essentially the opposite of mindless eating. It’s all about taking the time to think, consider and experience. Crucially, it’s paying attention to:
- the food you’re eating – its taste, texture, aroma and temperature
- the combination of ingredients – how the meal was prepared and presented
- where the food came from – who nurtured it, how it was grown, how it lived, how much processing was involved, who packed and transported it and how far it’s travelled
- how you felt before you ate it and how those feelings developed as you ate it and after you finished it
- exactly when you started feeling hungry, then when you felt full or bloated
- which meals give you energy and which make you tired
- whether your meal choice makes you feel happy and thankful or regretful and depressed
Enjoying the Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating teaches us to savour food, to experience the full pleasure a meal can provide and harbour feelings of thankfulness for our full stomachs.
It also trains our minds to pay attention to our body’s cues regarding food. It makes the signs of having had enough more apparent, and allows us to recognise cycles of craving and regret and energy peaks and troughs. Our bodies are always trying to communicate, but how often do we listen? In paying attention to our reactions to food, we can learn to take control of our food choices, develop healthier habits and enjoy the mental and physical benefits of wholesome nutrients.
How to Eat Mindfully
Here’s some tips for slowly introducing mindful eating into your life:
- Avoid distractions. Turn off the TV and leave your laptop and phone in another room. Put books and magazines to one side.
- Focus on the food. Savour the whole experience of eating as you eat each bite. Be grateful for the sustenance it provides for both body and soul.
- Put down the cutlery. After each bite, put your knife and fork down. This will help you focus on each mouthful, and stop you mindlessly preparing for the next. It will also slow down your eating pace and help you recognise feelings of fullness sooner.
- Be gentle with yourself. It’s perfectly normal for the mind to wander, especially at first. Make a note of where it wandered to, and move on each time it happens. Being mindful isn’t about having a completely empty mind, its about focussing on the right here and now.
- Shop mindfully. Mindful eating doesn’t start at the dinner table, it starts in the shops. Think about the food you buy, where it comes from and what dishes you make.
- Prepare simple snacks. Prepare healthy snacks (e.g. portions of nuts, seeds and dried fruits). Leave a small stockpile at home, and bring a portion or two to work every day.
Emails, TV, phones, social media – they all have their place. But in these busy times, it’s more important than ever to find some time to experience and enjoy our natural interactions with the world. Food can be one of the greatest pleasures in life, and if we give it the attention it deserves, it will reward us further with greater health and happiness.
So, whether your goal is to control a medical issue, change your eating habits or simply live more in the now, mindful eating can truly help build a happier, healthier you.