Eat with Awareness

What’s the problem?

The funny thing about those of us who have issues with food is that even though we spend hours every day obsessing about food, the last thing our minds want to think about when we finally do sit down for a meal is… well, the meal in front of us.

It’s as though one part of us wants us to eat and enjoy it, while the other one doesn’t and forces us to zone out.

If you’re a problem eater, a part of your mind is likely to feel guilty about eating. We don’t want to think about the food we’re consuming. We want to forget all of those diet rules that we may be breaking.

We end up eating in a trance.
We lose the ability to be present while eating.
We lose the ability to feel our own natural hunger and satiety signals.
Diets set up rules around food and disconnect people even further from their own experiences of hunger and fullness.

This, of course, leads to further problems.

If we don’t feel fullness, we don’t know when to stop eating – so we just keep on eating. Many of us overeat simply because we’ve forgotten how to listen to our bodies.

If we stop feeling genuine hunger, we tend to eat for emotional reasons. We seek comfort and a temporary escape from loneliness, stress or boredom in food. This leads to further overeating.

“I’ve worked with lots of binge eaters — you’d think they’d enjoy food. But a lot of them say they haven’t really tasted what they’ve been bingeing on for years.”

Okay, what’s the solution?

The solution is to introduce some peaceful presence into our eating habits.

The best way to achieve this is to try and start eating mindfully.

You may be wondering what ‘mindful eating’ means. Mindfulness is just another term for ‘being present’.

In a nutshell, eating mindfully is all about slowing down and paying more attention to your food during meal times. It sounds so simple, but it takes discipline and practice. ♥

Mindful eating might help you to get back in touch with those subtle sensations of hunger and satiety.

It can also bring a sense of balance into every aspect of how you eat – and, eventually, how you live.

It might seem ridiculously simple, but eating with awareness will help you to recognise hunger and fullness sooner. You will begin to understand and learn what foods your body really likes and how much food it takes for you to feel full. It sounds easy, but it’s literally life-changing 🙂

Science & Studies

The growing popularity of mindful eating has led to some of the world’s top universities putting its theories to the test. These experiments provided some fascinating results.

A joint study conducted by Duke and Indiana State Universities revealed that binge eaters who participated in a nine-week program of mindful eating went from binge eating four times a week to just once a week. Even when they did binge, they reported that their binges were much smaller and they felt less out of control while bingeing. Participants of the experiment also noticed that mindful eating helped them to truly enjoy the food that they were eating every single day.

Another study concluded that mindfulness techniques can help people to consume less sugary treats. After eating mindfully for five and a half months, the majority of 194 participants of the experiment reported that their cravings for sweets had reduced significantly. Even more importantly, these cravings remained weaker for as long as 12 months after the experiment had ended!

It’s clear then that the effects of mindfulness on problem eating can be extremely powerful, as well as long-lasting.

How can you know when to stop eating if you’re not paying attention to your fullness signals?

Pick a new habit

Choose a new habit to work on from the list below. Learn more about habits here.

Choose one meal and commit to eating it mindfully

Start with just one meal. Try to eat one meal or one snack mindfully every day. Even if you eat just the first few bites mindfully, it can still help you to break the cycle of wolfing your food down without paying any attention to it.

Savour each mouthful. Chew it slowly and taste it fully. Enjoy the flavours, the textures one bite at a time. Swallow and pause for a breath before scooping up another bite.

I’m not saying that you have to eat at a snail’s pace. All you need to do is try and eat your food a little slower than usual. It takes about 20-30 minutes for your body to register that you’ve eaten enough food, so slowing down can significantly reduce the possibility of overeating. 🙂

Get into the habit of putting your utensils down after each bite

Try and put your utensils down for a moment after each bite. Allow yourself to notice — and enjoy — the taste and texture of your food. Take a breath. Pick up your utensils again and repeat.

If you’re eating around others, use this break to make conversation or ask a question. It will make the breaks much more natural. However, you should take a moment to refocus your attention and to stay present even when you’re eating alone.

Helpful tips

Tips for slowing down

  • If slowing down is a struggle, try using a timer. When you’re done eating, see how many minutes have gone by. Voilà – you have a baseline for improvement! Now do your best to finish your meal one minute later the next day. Keep doing that for two weeks and you’ll slow your pace of eating down by nearly 15 minutes!
  • Alternatively, try and set a minimum number of chews per bite. It might seem a little bit strange at first, but stick with it for a few days and see if it helps you to slow down.
  • Avoid getting too hungry in-between meals. If you’re feeling absolutely ravenous, eating slowly is likely to be much harder.
  • If there’s a slow eater with you during meal times, try to follow their pace of eating to give yourself an idea of a natural, healthy eating speed (children or very chatty people are ideal candidates!).

Tips for eating with awareness

  • It might be helpful for you to have a designated eating place. Sitting down at a table, with nothing but your plate and a glass of water or a cup of tea before you, is pretty much perfect. It allows you to tell your mind, loud and clear, that this is where you eat food. As a result, once you’re finished eating your meal, it’s much easier to just stand up and leave the food behind.
  • If you find it hard to let go of stress, try lighting a candle or playing some music. You’ll send a clear signal to your brain, telling it that the food battle is over. So sit down, remove all distractions and do your best to make it pleasant.
  • Try and avoid multitasking during your meals. Don’t look at your mobile device, your computer or your TV. Instead, look at the food. Enjoy the beauty of the thing you’re about to eat.
  • The old adage which says that “the banquet is in the first bite” couldn’t be more true. Depending on the food and the level of hunger, it takes three to six bites for most people to notice a decrease in flavour and satisfaction. It doesn’t mean that you should stop eating after the first six bites, but it might encourage you to savour your food to the fullest.
“Try to approach food non-judgementally. Many people bring a host of negative emotions to the table – from guilt about blowing a diet to childhood fears of deprivation or wastefulness. I joke with my clients that if I could put a microphone in their heads and broadcast what they’re saying to themselves when they eat, it would have to be bleeped out!

Ready to move on?

This is really a life-long skill. There is no fixed end point. Nevertheless, feel free to move on once you’ve got into the habit of eating at least one meal mindfully each day.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t go smoothly. This is challenging and it might be hard to stay committed and focused.

As long as you’re making an effort to eat mindfully each day, you’re good to go :).