Mindful eating

How often do we eat on ‘auto-pilot’? By this we mean not engaging on a moment-by-moment basis with what you eat?

Unfortunately, the society we live in doesn’t encourage this, our culture of instant gratification doesn’t much allow for it and food, in all its colourful and tasty ubiquity, is something we often take for granted, and frequently abuse, without appreciating the consequences.

Mindful eating can change all of this. Mindful eating allows us to relearn our attitudes to food; to respect, enjoy and appreciate it whilst supporting not only our well-being, but also our environment.

The main principles of mindful eating include:

  • using your 5 senses to engage with what you eat; be fully present when eating.
  • eating without distractions and the buzz of modern life. Try to sit down at a table and create an appropriate ‘scene’ so that eating is an occasion rather than just eating for eatings sake. Remember the 3 ‘s’s – try, more often than not, to eat Seated, Slowly and Sociably.
  • becoming in tune with feelings of hunger and being full; make choices and eat accordingly. Eat slowly, chew more and pause between bites, savouring the food and the sensations as you eat.
  • knowing that there is no right or wrong way to eat. Mindful eating is not a diet; it is not a judgement of what we eat, but be aware of what you are eating and how you are eating it.
  • being aware of how our internal thoughts, feelings and emotions relate to the choices we make when it comes to choosing and eating our food.
  • ‘knowing’ your food: what it looks like, what is in it, where did it come from, who grew it, and how did it get on your plate.

Awareness to our food will focus our attention on the act of eating so that it is no longer a passive pastime but a wholly important, engaging and pleasurable act, through which we relate directly with our environment and our bodies.

Mindful eating practice can be cultivated in a number of different ways, from the way we shop and choose our food, to how we prepare it and ultimately eat it.

Think internal cues, not external ones; health enhancement rather than weight loss; quality calories rather than calorie counting; satisfaction not deprivation; permission not denial; above all celebrate food, don’t fight food.

A Mindful eating exercise – Exploring an orange

As with exercise for the physical body, it is important we warm up for a Mindfulness practice – an exercise or training for our minds. We need to prepare the mind, as we do our muscles, for the exercise to come so we get the most we can from the experience.

This involves bringing ones attention to the present moment. We live much of our day in our heads, with our thoughts for company. Often we dwell in the past (let’s not forget our memories are more often negative than not) or worrying about the future (what we can’t possibly know or control). Mindfulness practice involves engaging us with the present moment and experiencing it consciously. One way to achieve this is by bringing ones attention to one’s physical body, and our experience of life through it, as opposed to ‘losing’ oneself in our thoughts. With practice, this empowers us to make the correct decisions in life and allow us to live to our full potential.

The exercise:

Firstly, get an orange and place it on the table in front of you.

Ensure you are seated upright on a chair at a table, with the orange in front of you. Place your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. With your eyes open, bring you attention to your breath and note the sensations as the breath flows in and out of your nostrils. Feel the gentle rise and fall of your diaphragm as the air enters and leaves your body. Become aware of the contact between your feet and the floor and your hands with the tops of your legs, as they rest in your lap.

Shut your eyes.

Engage fully with your 5 senses. Spend a minute or so bringing your attention to what you can see (behind closed eyelids), what you can hear, what you can smell and taste and touch.

For a few minutes remain focused on your breathing. If you like, you can count the breaths as you take them (count 1 for every inhale and exhale).

Thoughts will pop into your head and may capture your attention for a few seconds. As soon as you are aware of this, redirect your attention back to the movement, and counting, of your breaths.  Try and take about 10 consecutive breaths. If you get lost in a thought return to your breath and start counting again from one.

Open your eyes. Pick up the orange.

1.Engage

Hold the orange in the palm of your hand. Focusing on it, imagine that you have just dropped in from Mars and have never seen or smelled an object like this before in your life.

2.Seeing

Take time to really see it; gaze at the orange with care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the variations in colour and any asymmetries or unique features.

3.Touching

Turn the orange over between your fingers, exploring its texture. Notice how it is different when your eyes are open and closed.

4.Smelling

Holding the orange beneath your nose, with each inhalation drink in any smell you detect, noticing as you do any sensations in your mouth or stomach.

5.Peeling

Decide how you want to take the peel off. As you do this use as many of your senses as you can. Feel the different textures. See how the orange beneath the peel smells. Look at how it is divided into sections.

6.Placing

Slowly bring a section of the orange up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place a portion in your mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.

7.Tasting

When you are ready, prepare to chew the orange, noticing how and where it needs to be in your mouth for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these change over time, moment by moment, as well as any changes in the object itself.

8.Swallowing

When you feel ready to swallow the piece of orange, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the bit of orange.

9.Following

Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the bit of orange moving down into your stomach, and sense how the body as a whole is feeling about mindful eating.