Have you ever been eating chips while watching your favorite show, only to realize that you have eaten the entire bag without even noticing? Suddenly you feel guilty, devouring your snack without barely tasting it. How is it that this way of eating has become so common for most people? Why does it cause us such unhappiness? The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food is that we've forgotten how to be truly present when we eat. Mindful eating is so important, especially in today’s fast-paced society where it tempts people with an abundance of food choices, usually bad ones.
Not to mention that our attention has shifted to screens for distraction. Eating has become a quick, mindless act. This causes a huge problem for most people since it takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realize you’re actually full. When you eat too fast, the full signal may not arrive until you have already overeaten. This is very common in binge-eating. By eating mindfully, you focus your attention on the act of eating itself. If you are trying to lose weight, improve health, or change your eating patterns, we suggest making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.
Most people who struggle with food eat mindlessly with unrecognized triggers and feelings. Essentially, they repeat past actions over and over again without actually realizing what is causing them. Often these triggers are caused by emotions such as boredom, stress, sadness, and so on. In extreme cases, it can be linked to depression and feelings of unworthiness and will repeat itself in a vicious cycle.
Food is often thought of as a way to fill a void and create a feeling of “fullness” where our thoughts are lacking. Obviously, this is purely psychological but it is a very real feeling for many people. We so often use food in our society as a reward, so when we feel low, we turn to a treat for comfort. Mindfulness increases your awareness of these patterns and creates a safe space where we can identify emotional triggers and our actions.
Food is wonderful and can be medicinal when consumed properly. Our bodies have the remarkable capability of healing themselves and food plays a huge part in this. Mindful eating gives you the skills you need to deal with these impulses and change your relationship to food. It puts you in charge of your responses instead of a victim to your actions.
Today we live such fast-paced lives, everywhere you look, food is readily available. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t eat on the go at times. While eating on the go can be forgiven on occasion, distracted eating has become almost commonplace in today's society. We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with a full bag of popcorn, and halfway through the movie we are wondering where our popcorn went? This is the perfect example of distracted eating. It has become so commonplace to stare at a screen while eating, it’s even encouraged in young children, but we don’t realize how harmful this actually can be for future eating habits.
Multitasking when eating sidetracks us from what our bodies need and usually prompts us to overeat. When we are distracted, it becomes harder to listen to hungry or full signals. And without a memory of having eaten, you are more likely to eat again sooner. With your next meal, try just eating, with no screens or distractions. Or if you are with another person, focus on simply the conversation and the entire experience of your food.
Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, which is an ancient Buddhist concept. This technique helps you gain control over your eating habits. It’s essentially eating with intention and has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating, stress, restore your relationship with food, and help you feel better overall. Sometimes this can be as simple as asking yourself, “am I hungry?” From there, you can truly understand the intentions behind your eating and you’re able to observe your thoughts and choose how you respond.
"The tenets of mindfulness apply to mindful eating as well, but the concept of mindful eating goes beyond the individual. It also encompasses how what you eat affects the world. We eat for total health." - Dr. Cheung
While mindful eating typically applies to fruit, vegetables, and whole healthy foods. You could use it even when eating pizza as long as you slow down and become fully aware of the experience. Mindful eating also encompasses buying and preparing your food. Learning how shifting your eating habits from emotionally driven to intentionally driven can intensely improve your overall physical and mental health.
We have all become so disconnected from our food with grocery stores, fast food, delivery apps, and so on. Many of us don’t even consider where our meals come from. This is actually quite sad because eating is an incredible opportunity to connect more deeply to the natural world, and the elements.
When you consider everything that went into a meal, you feel a sense of gratitude to all of the people who gave their time and effort, the elements that played a part, and even the beings who may have given their lives for you to eat. With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health. Not just for us but for the whole planet. Food should be viewed as a gift to be appreciated, especially since it is so easy to take for granted.
This mindset can (and should) be applied to most areas of our lives. When we become mindful, we truly appreciate life and the world around us.
Here are some great ways to get started on your path to mindful eating: