Mindful Eating: eating for wellbeing

Mindful Eating

Mindfulness has experienced a real boom in recent years, not least because it can be incorporated into every part of the working day and may benefit our health and wellbeing in several ways. What is mindfulness? Generally, mindfulness means being aware of the here and now. Emerging thoughts and feelings are neither acted upon nor judged. Instead, they are consciously acknowledged and accepted exactly as they are at that moment. In addition to the acceptance and non-judgement, patience is important here, as is being able to let go, trust, and not force anything.

Mindfulness can be practised in short moments – a long meditation is not always necessary. For example, you can stop briefly over tea or coffee, and be grateful for your break and delicious drink. Small things like this are a first step to becoming more aware of the here and now and boosting your own mindfulness. You can find more information about mindfulness here.

What is mindful eating?

As the term suggests, mindful eating means eating with awareness. To do this, you need to use all your emotional and physical senses to experience and enjoy your chosen food. It is important to concentrate your attention on the experience of eating, the physical sensations, and your thoughts and feelings about the food. All this takes place without judging or evaluating. What are you eating? Why are you eating? How much are you eating? How do you eat? And what do you feel when you eat? How does your body respond to the food? What is your mood? What thoughts are running through your head?

Use the following tips and questions to help you to eat mindfully:

  • Appreciate your food. Where do the individual foodstuffs come from? Who prepared the food? For what and whom are you grateful in this context? 
  • Approach your food with all your senses. How does your food smell? What does it look like? Which colours can you see? How does it taste? How does it feel as you eat it? How do you feel when you eat it? What are your surroundings as you eat? Can you hear anything?
  • Make sure your portion sizes are appropriate. This way you will know when you have had enough. Listen to your feelings of hunger and satiety. 
  • Enjoy your food in small mouthfuls and chew it thoroughly. In this way you can better recognise and enjoy the different flavours in your food.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Don’t skip any meals. If you don’t eat for a long time, at some point you will feel extremely hungry. This can often result in you choosing the simplest and quickest food options, and frequently you will eat more than you need. Avoid such situations by always eating your meals at the same time and grabbing a small snack if you feel hungry between meals. Read this article about what makes a great snack.
  • Don’t let yourself be distracted. Schedule enough time for your meals. Try not to do anything else while you eat, or to distract yourself by watching television, looking at your phone or something similar. A convivial meal shared with other people can improve your eating experience still more.

What is mindful eating good for?

Eating mindfully can boost your own wellbeing, increase your enjoyment of your food and result in higher body satisfaction. People who eat mindfully are more likely to eat foods that contribute to a balanced diet and keep you feeling full for longer. What’s more, mindful eating has in some cases been shown to lead to weight loss, because the individuals concerned approached their food with awareness. Mindful eating may help you to better perceive and identify your feelings of hunger and satiety. Sometimes the concept of mindful eating is used as part of treatment for binge-eating, emotional eating, food cravings or even diabetes. We must emphasise here that mindful eating cannot replace any conventional treatment for conditions such as eating disorders.

Exercise: mindfully eating a raisin

Allow 5 to 10 minutes for this exercise and make sure that you are not interrupted. For example, put your smartphone on silent or even turn it off altogether. Now follow these points one by one:

  1. Take a raisin and put it on the table in front of you. If you don’t have any raisins, you could also use a nut or a berry. Any food of around that size will do. 
  2. Imagine that you have just arrived on Earth. You know nothing of this planet. And definitely nothing about this thing (the raisin) in front of you. Where there is no experience, there are no prejudices, fears or expectations. Be open to this experience and breathe deeply a few times to relax yourself. Ready?
  3. Look at the raisin and pick it up in your hand.
  4. Feel its weight.
  5. Examine it. What does the surface look like? How do the wrinkled and smooth spots feel? Look deliberately at the raisin.
  6. Sniff the raisin. What does it smell of? Does the scent trigger anything in you? A feeling? A memory?
  7. Roll the raisin around on your hand and press it between your fingers. Does this make a noise? Is it sticky? Does anything happen to its shape? 
  8. Put the raisin between your lips and leave it there for a moment. How does this feel? 
  9. Put it into your mouth. Don’t chew yet, but let it roll over your tongue. Can you taste anything yet? Do you intend to chew it? Can you feel your salivation changing? 
  10. Bite the raisin once. What changes? 
  11. Chew slowly and pay attention to the way everything – the flavour, your perception and feelings – changes with every bite. What do you learn? 
  12. Swallow it and close your eyes briefly, to allow the experience to affect you.


Reflection and evaluating the exercise

How did you experience this exercise? Strange? Difficult? Many people find this when they first do it. With a bit of practice, some people find it easier to engage with the experience and to focus their full attention on it.

Repeat the exercise now, or later. Do you notice any difference between deliberate, mindful eating and eating without thinking, out of habit?

Mindful eating in daily life

Mindful eating can also be used with full meals. Try to eat your next breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack mindfully. Concentrate on your experiences when you do. Which flavours can you identify? What is the temperature of your food, and the individual ingredients? How does the consistency of the food vary? How do your feelings of hunger and satiety change? Which feelings does the food trigger?

Over time it becomes possible to target your attention towards many different, routine, everyday activities. This will help you to learn to experience your present more intensively.

 

Have fun experimenting! :-)

 

 

 

 

 

References
Clark, R. G. (n.d.). Mindfully Eating A Raisin – Script. Mindfulness Training. https://www.mbsrtraining.com/
Harvard University. (n.d.). Mindful Eating. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-Eating/
Nelson, J. B. (2017). Mindful Eating: The art of presence while you eat. Diabetes Spectrum, 30(3), 171-174. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0015
Tapper, K. (2022). Mindful eating: what we know so far. Nutrition Bulletin, 47(2), 168-185. https://doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12559
Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition research reviews, 30(2), 272-283. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954422417000154

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