In today’s society, we are often encouraged to strive for impossible standards of perfection, particularly when it comes to the way that we look. Weight-control diets feed into this idea, inadvertently teaching us to be at war with our bodies by encouraging us to be fearful of foods, to strictly control what we eat, and to label foods as “good” or bad”. In turn, many people have become disconnected from their bodies and eating has become a cognitive process rather than one that relies on our body signals to cue our eating behaviours. Eating this way can be draining, frustrating and anxiety provoking. Mindful eating is a valuable alternative to weight-control diets as it allows you to reconnect with your body by building an alliance between body and mind.
Mindful eating involves eating with intention and awareness. It is not about what you eat but rather it is about the way that you eat. When you are a mindful eater, you are aware of your eating habits and you control your eating decisions. Sometimes this will mean that you make better decisions regarding your eating, other times you may not. Either way, you will bring awareness to these choices and will show more self-acceptance and compassion towards yourself even when you make unhelpful choices.
Steps to becoming a mindful eater:
- Paying attention
When it comes to eating, you may notice that you never feel satisfied or that you eat until you are uncomfortably full. This is often because we are not paying attention to our body’s internal cues of hunger and satiety. Next time you eat a meal practice paying close attention to your bodily sensations (e.g. notice what the food looks like, how the food tastes, how it feels on your tongue, how it smells), slowing down the pace of your meal and checking in with your hunger and satiety signals every few minutes.
In addition to paying attention to your internal body cues, it is important to start to notice what prompts you to eat when you are not physically hungry or what tries to sabotage your appetite. This may include situations (a hard day at work, a rule that you can’t leave a plate until it is empty, or simply walking past a vending machine) and/or tricky feelings (stress, sadness, discomfort, boredom). When you know your triggers, you are able to anticipate them before they happen and make better choices.
Completing a diary of your eating behaviour will assist you to identify your triggers (you can find a diary template on our website). A diary of your eating involves you monitoring your food intake as well as any thoughts, feelings and/or situations that arise. This will allow you to identify any patterns that are influencing your eating behaviour. Once you are aware of these patterns, you will find it easier to make the necessary changes because you will know what needs changing.
- Being in the present moment
Far too often we are not present when we eat. We may be eating on the run, in front of the television, or eating at our desk whilst working. When we eat unconsciously we can easily develop unhealthy habits around eating. Mindful eating involves you acting consciously when you are eating, instead of out of habit. Try to set aside a few minutes each day to practice mindful eating. You may like to start with committing to eating just one meal or snack mindfully each day and then gradually increase the amount of time until you can do this with every meal and snack. If possible, begin your mindful eating practice at a time when you can minimise any possible distractions.
- Practicing nonjudgement
People can be so hard on themselves, particularly in regard to the way that they eat. In turn, we often end up allowing ourselves to let the foods that we eat influence how we feel about ourselves. That is, we are a good person when we eat “good” food (or a small amount of food) and a bad person if we eat “bad” food (or too much of something). However, on its own food is neither good nor bad. Food is neutral but we have assigned these labels to it. Further, the food you eat does not dictate the type of person you are. Mindful eating encourages people to have neutral thoughts about food rather than being judgemental. We should worry less about whether food is “good” or “bad” and instead try to aim and eat food that makes us feel good.
- Accepting yourself and letting go
Learning to accept yourself for who you are is a key part of mindful eating. Acceptance of yourself involves you letting go of certain beliefs (fitting into a particular clothing size, eating in a particular way, feeling the need to be perfect) and allowing yourself to be you without hoping for something better. In addition, you are encouraged to learn to let feelings pass without acting on them. This means feeling tricky or unpleasant emotions without turning to something (e.g. food) to numb the feeling. These emotions are often more easily tolerated than you think.
If you would like more support in learning how to reconnect to your body with mindful eating please contact us at BodyMatters Australasia to schedule an appointment to see one of our therapists. You may also like to visit our website where you can find various helpful resources to assist you in your journey towards mindful eating.
Albers, S. (2008). Eat, Drink and be Mindful: How to End Your Struggle with Mindless Eating and Start Savoring Food with Intention and Joy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications
Ciarrochi, J., Bailey, A., & Hurris, R. (2014). The Weight Escape. Australia: Penguin Australia