I recently read an article about mindful eating and decided to try it myself. Mindful eating is a method based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, which involves being fully aware of “now” i.e. present moment during a meal and paying attention to what is happening within and around you at that moment.
So as I was eating a slice of my whole-wheat bread, I realized my mind is really like a monkey (jumping from branch to branch). I could keep the attention to food for about few seconds and then I caught myself thinking of something else.
So think of someone who tries to eat as healthy as possible every day. Someone who cooks a balanced meal every day, who buys food in organic food shops, eat breakfast, eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day, get their protein and then comes from work and eat in front of a television or eat and think of problems at work. Sounds a little bit contradictory, doesn’t it?
What is mindfulness?
„Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future”.
In this context, mindful eating would mean truly paying attention to the food we eat or beverage we drink. Simply observing the many sensations and thoughts that come up as we eat or drink.
How does the food/beverage taste, what is the color, how does the texture feel, how does it smell?
We should also pay attention to our bodies. How hungry am I? How does it feel to be fully fed?
Mind also matters as we eat: most probably you will catch yourself thinking of anything else but the food you eat. Simply notice your sensations, thoughts and feelings without judging.
Mindless eating, on the other hand, means making food and beverage related choices on “automatic pilot” which may lead to overeating and increased calorie intake. It is eating while distracted and not focused on the food we are consuming. This behavior impairs our ability to accurately estimate the amount of food we eat. When eating mindlessly, people feel a lower degree of fullness and a greater desire to eat compared to those that pay attention to their food. Perceived pleasantness from the food declines while eating mindlessly. People also tend to forget the food they ate recently.
Some research on mindful eating
Mindless eating can really make you eat much more. One example is a study by Wansink, Painter, and North, where 54 participants at a Midwestern university were served a soup. Half of the participants were served soup in a normal bowl and half were served soup in a self–refilling bowl (bowls were slowly and imperceptibly refilled as their contents were consumed). The study showed the participants who were unknowingly eating from self–refilling bowls ate 73% more soup then those eating from normal bowls! But despite consuming 73% more, participants did not believe they had consumed more soup, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated.
Mindful eating could promote healthy weight regulation by turning awareness inside to one’s own physical cues and paying attention to emotions and emotional triggers from the environment. In a study conducted by Beshara, Hutchinson, and Wilson, 171 adults completed self-report measures of everyday mindful eating and average serving size of foods consumed in the preceding week. Participants who reported higher levels of everyday mindfulness were more mindful eaters and ate smaller serving size of energy-dense foods. So according to the study, even if you decide to eat that chocolate bar, there is a good chance you will eat less of it if you practice mindful eating. And if you could really eat only a small amount of food that you “not supposed to eat” wouldn’t that be great? It is much better to eat only 2-3 cubes of your favorite chocolate then to eat a whole 300 g chocolate bar in your craving attack. Or at least that is my opinion. 🙂
So what you should do to become a mindful eater?
While eating try to follow these suggestions:
- sit down while eating
- try to eat slowly and pay attention to each bite
- avoid distractions such as TV or your mobile phone
- chew your food thoroughly: research shows that eating slowly can help us to eat less
- put down your fork and knife after each bite and enjoy your bite completely
- pay attention to taste, colors, smells, texture, even sounds (while chewing)
- pay attention to your body’s signs of hunger/satiety
- notice your thoughts and emotions while eating