Mindful Eating – Connect to Your Inner Wisdom

Mindful Eating – What is It?

Mindful eating is about being aware of your eating experience – being aware of your food choices, your reasons for eating and knowing when to stop eating. It’s about being conscious of where your food is coming from, where and how it was made. Mindful eating also includes becoming aware of your own thoughts and actions and how they relate to food and eating.

I used mindful eating to lose more than 20 kilograms many years ago, before I even knew the term ‘mindful eating’. I simply started to listen to my body, my hungry and full signals. I started to note when I was using food for comfort and when I was eating to over-full. I also stopped judging – myself and my food. I became aware of how often that critical voice was taunting me, telling me what I should and shouldn’t eat, telling me I was fat and ugly, stressing me out, making me eat more.

Mindful Eating Principles

There are many different techniques used in mindful eating. Some might work for you, others not. However, the overall principles remain the same, no matter which of the techniques you decide to use.

These principles are:

1. Non-judging – not judging yourself, your body or the food you put into it;

2. Patience – allowing yourself time, knowing that by learning the right principles, you will lose the weight and keep it off forever;

3. Beginner’s Mind – seeing your surroundings, including your food, as if for the first time and appreciating it as such;

4. Trust – learning to trust the innate wisdom of your body, not a diet, to tell you when to eat the perfect type and quantity of food to maintain a heathy weight;

5. Non-striving – not living in the future, putting off doing something until you are the perfect weight;

6. Acceptancemaking peace with where you are in your life right now, no matter your weight and circumstances;

7. Non-attachment – not focusing on the outcomes of a particular practice or way of eating, just enjoying the journey.

If you look at a child’s eating, you will realise that we are all mindful eaters naturally, until we get conditioned to eat certain foods at certain times, often whether we’re hungry or not. So try to get back in touch with your ‘beginner’s mind’ and give mindful eating a try.

Mindful Eating & Dieting

One of the main reasons why dieting is bad is that we lose touch with the deeper wisdom of our body. Most of us are born with the innate ability to know what our bodies need and when. We slowly lose this ability the more we diet.

Most diets advocate eating certain foods, cutting out other foods or eating at certain times. This often forces you to go against what your body needs, eat at times when you are not physically hungry or to feel deprived after cutting out foods you like for a long period of time. The more you do this, the more out of touch with your body you become and the less likely you are to know when you are hungry and when you are full and what foods to eat to nourish your body.

The truth is that your body has different needs on different days and in different seasons. No diet knows your body better than you do! If you are going to follow a raw-food diet in the middle of a cold winter, your body is going to feel cold on the inside and probably start craving warm baked foods. If this craving overtakes your will-power, you might find yourself binging uncontrollably on warm buttered bread, then feeling deflated and angry with yourself for breaking your diet.

Food has an energetic quality, just as your body does. If you don’t balance your body’s energy with the energy of your food and environment, you won’t feel good. By food energy, I’m not referring to calories, I’m referring to its qualities to warm, cool, invigorate or calm.

The Diet Cycle

Another reason why dieting is bad is that it can make you feel worse about yourself because you start to judge your success by how well you follow the rules of the diet. When you break the diet, you feel like a failure and this might make you eat worse and more than you did before.

Eventually you become judgemental of all food, seeing it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. This goes completely against the mindful eating principle of non-judging. You also judge this food according to what the diet says, and not what your body is telling you.

If, like me, you have been on multiple diets, you will know this cycle all too well. You will know how it feels each time you put your hopes into a new diet to help you gain control of your weight and then feel a failure and more out of touch with your body each time you can’t maintain the diet. You lose control and put on all the lost weight, until you find the next diet. And so the yo-yo diet cycle continues.

So, having a better idea of why dieting is bad, how do you stop this cycle? How can you lose weight and gain control of your eating without dieting? The answer is Mindful Eating. We explore some of these practices in my Free Online Eat Mindfully Course – now also available on Udemy.

I also explore how to break free from dieting and the diet cycle in my book – Eat Mindfully: Finding Peace with Food – now available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

Not Judging Your Food

When you have been dieting for many years, you’ve probably got into the habit of judging your food. Each diet will have different foods that it advocates and others that it prohibits – protein is good, carbs are bad; cooked food is bad, raw food is healthy; meat is toxic, vegetables are nourishing. The list could go on and on.

One of the principles of mindfulness is not to judge – yourself, those around you and the food you eat. Different foods are good for different people at different times. All food is allowed, you just need to learn to listen to your body’s unique needs.

Of coarse every food has its own unique qualities – and these qualities get transferred to us when we eat it. This is another topic on its own completely – Food Energetics. When you start to eat more intuitively, you will start to have a deeper ‘knowing’ of what you need to eat to balance your body.

This is different to judging your food. When you judge your food you are choosing to not eat a food because its considered ‘fattening’ or it goes against what your diet is telling you to eat. You are not listening to your body.

Overcome Emotional Eating with Mindful Eating

I’m sure we’ve all experienced emotional eating more than once. When you reach for a sweet when you’re anxious about a deadline you’re supposed to be working on, when you eat a large bag of crisps after dinner because you’re lonely or when you eat a whole tub of ice-cream because you’re feeling angry – that’s emotional eating. I’m sure you could add many more examples. Take a moment to give it some thought – how often do you eat for reasons other than hunger? So how do we overcome emotional eating?

The first thing you need to do to help you overcome emotional eating, is to become aware of your emotions. Emotional eating has probably become such an automatic response that you don’t even realise that you are doing it. So what might help is to take a moment to become aware. Don’t be afraid to feel. Don’t push down those feelings with food. You need to learn to just be with those feelings. You don’t have to act on them, just acknowledge them.

A good technique is doing a mini-meditation whenever you are reaching for something to eat:

Mini-Meditation

Take a moment to stop whatever you are doing. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Take a moment to focus on your breath. Focus on where you feel the in-breath entering  your body and where it leaves the body as you exhale. Now take a moment to observe what is going on inside of you at this moment. What are your thoughts? What are your feelings? What are you feeling in your body? Just observe – without judging. Now bring your attention back to your breath and think about the food you are about to eat. Are you really hungry for it? Or are you eating for other reasons? When you are ready, open your eyes and proceed with awareness. If you still want to eat, do so mindfully. If you have decided you don’t want to eat, put it aside for later when you really feel like it.

Becoming Aware of Emotional Eating Triggers

Emotional eating is not bad. We all do it. We eat to celebrate, we eat to treat ourselves. Emotional eating only becomes a problem when it becomes our primary way of dealing with emotions and we are not aware of it. So don’t be hard on yourself for eating emotionally and don’t judge yourself.

If you feel that you are gaining weight and you aren’t sure why, you might need to take a closer look at what you eat when you are feeling emotional and what exactly those trigger emotions are. Do you eat when you are angry? Do you eat when you are sad? Or do you eat when you are happy or excited? You could record a diary for a couple of weeks to get a better idea of which emotions cause you to reach for certain foods for comfort.

Once you are more aware of your eating habits, you need to decide how you can change them. Try making a list of your trigger emotions and next to each one give a few alternatives to food for venting the emotion. For instance, instead of reaching for a chocolate when you are angry, try going outside for a quick walk. Or put on a CD really loud that will help you to express what you are feeling. The pull towards the chocolate might be a lot stronger than the alternative, but just tell yourself that you are first going to try the alternative and then have the chocolate afterwards. You might even find that you won’t feel like the comfort food after you have found a different way to vent the emotion.

There might still be times that you give into eating because you are emotional, but then still try to stay conscious of your full signals. You are still in control if you stop eating when you are satisfied – not over full.

Learing to Listen to Your Body

The essence of mindful eating is to help you to listen to your body. Your body wants to be healthy. It wants to stay strong and balanced.

One of the first ways you can start listening to your body is to become aware of your physical hunger. What does this feel like to you? Before you eat anything, ask yourself if you are eating because you are hungry. Here are some body signals of physical hunger:

  • Your stomach feels empty;
  • You might start to feel a little light headed or dizzy;
  • You could feel a little shaky;
  • If you don’t eat straight away, these sensations might go away, but then return again with more intensity.

When you start to feel hungry, some of the sensations might be because your body is starting to use its reserves, i.e. your fat stores, to get its energy. If you are trying to lose weight, this is not a bad thing. There is no need to panic because you are hungry. Just observe the sensations.

The next way to listen to your body is to become aware of your full signals. You need to observe when your body has had enough to eat. This is often when the food you are eating stops tasting as good. Observe this. 

Once you are eating because you are hungry and stopping because you are full, you can start observing what foods your body is needing when you do eat. This is different to food cravings. Its more about knowing how to nourish your body, whereas cravings are often desires that aren’t rooted in nourishing your body. Cravings, in fact, are often for foods that are not good for our bodies. As an example, sugar or chocolate cravings. The more of these foods we eat, the more we want. As you get more in tune with your body, you’ll be able to distinguish between cravings and what your body’s cells actually need. And the more you listen to your body, its hungry and full signals, and satisfy it with foods that nourish it, the less likely you are to overeat.

Mindful Eating Practices

Keeping the principles of mindful eating in mind, let me introduce you to a mindful eating practice you can start putting into place. Don’t try and change everything at once. All habit changes take time. It’s better if you choose one new practice at a time. Once that practice is feeling more natural to you, try adding the next one. Give yourself at least a week of consistently incorporating each practice into your daily life.

There are many mindful eating practices which I cover in my workshops and the full Eat Mindfully Online Course, but here is one for you to try for now:

Being present for your meal

Try this for at least one meal a day. Focus just on the act of eating. Block out all distractions – talking, television, driving, working. Become aware of the aroma of your food, breathe it in. Feel the texture of each mouthful as it enters your mouth, as you slowly chew each mouthful. Notice how the flavour changes as you chew it. Feel the sensations as you swallow the food. How does it feel as it goes down your throat? How does it settle in your stomach?

Do this for the whole meal. Notice as the food stops tasting as good as it did in the beginning. This means you’re probably getting full. Try and stop eating when this happens. At the end of your meal, take a moment to feel gratitude for your meal before you carry on with your day. 

Free Online Mindful Eating Course

We explore some of these practices in my Free Online Eat Mindfully Course – now also available on Udemy.

Eat Mindfully – Finding Peace with Food – Book

I also explore how to break free from dieting and the diet cycle in my book – Eat Mindfully: Finding Peace with Food – now available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

 

Bronwen de Klerk Be Present
Bronwen de Klerk Be Present
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