In his book Full Catastrophe Living, John Kabat-Zinn defined the term “mindfulness” as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Mindfulness, rather than just a habit, becomes a way of living for those who practice it regularly. It is more than just meditation, it’s choosing to be present in each and every moment by clueing into the sounds, scents, tastes, feels and sights occurring around you. This practice has led to the reduction of chronic pain, depression, anxiety and insomnia, for example. 

Mindfulness can be applied to all areas of your life, but for now, we want to pay attention to one area in particular: mindful eating.

What is mindful eating?

Simply put, mindful eating is taking the concept of being fully aware of the present moment by using all your senses and, without judgment, experiencing what happens as you eat. By paying careful attention to the sensation of eating, you not only keep your mind from wandering frantically, but you also become more aware of what you’re putting into your body.

The benefits of mindfully eating your food?

You’re likely to lose weight, enjoy your meal more and feel less pressured to hurry it up and move on to the next thing. Eating becomes not something you need to just get over with; rather, it becomes a time of peace during your day when your body — and your brain — can rest.

Mindful eating exercises

Mindful eating takes practice and patience, especially when learning to be non-judgmental of your observations. For example, if you dislike a certain dish you made, it might be tempting to judge your cooking abilities. With mindfulness, however, you’ll learn to simply acknowledge the fact that this specific combination of spices and ingredients isn’t pleasing to you….and leave it at that. No judgment, just observation. 

So mindful eating — how does it work? 

Grocery shop mindfully

Instead of impulsively shopping for groceries when you’re hungry, take the time to plan out a list of items you want to purchase ahead of time and use this focus to choose food items on the healthy side! When you shop hungry, it’s tempting to go straight for processed foods. However, if you plan out your list beforehand, you can keep yourself accountable and keep your grocery cart full of fruits, veggies and healthy proteins. 

Prepare mindfully

As you prep your meal, how does each ingredient feel in your hands? Do they smell sweet, sour, bitter or bland when you open the package? Are they hot, cold or room temperature? How much do you need to prepare? Are you making enough to have lunches during the week, or just enough for dinner for you and your family? 

Notice why you’re eating

Are you hungry, or are you eating because of boredom or stress? Is it time for a meal, or are you snacking simply because it’s something to do?

Don’t eat with distractions

Turn off the television and put your phone someplace else. Without realizing it, you can quickly overeat simply by paying attention to something other than your meal. However, if you put these distractions aside and really take the time to focus on what you’re eating, you can avoid overeating.

Notice how mindful eating makes you feel

Does food make you anxious or guilty? Perhaps situations such as the smell or sight of food cause you to eat simply because it’s out on the counter, regardless of whether or not you’re hungry. Do you notice a difference in your body if you eat a meal rich in healthy proteins and vegetables versus something from a drive-thru?

Eat with intention and attention

Take the time to eat slowly, to focus on what you’re putting into your mouth and how frequently you do so. Do you rush meals and finish within minutes, or do you relish the flavors and textures of each bite? Mindfully eating involves using all five senses. So, what does your meal taste like? Does it have a pleasant or distinct scent? Is it mushy, tough, tender or slippery? What colors are on your plate? Does it make any sound when you cut or bite into it?

Listen to your body

It takes the body about 20 minutes to send the signals to the brain that communicate you’re full. The faster you eat, the more you can eat before your brain receives these signals, at which point you might be overfull. By eating slowly and intentionally, you give your body the time to realize its needs in real-time. By cluing into your body, you can prevent overeating and maintain a healthy feeling of satiation. 

Why mindful eating?

Mindful living allows you to enter into the present moment without judgment; this benefit of mindfulness helps you remain grounded, stay focused and motivated, and gives you the strength to remain at peace even when other aspects of life feel chaotic.

Mindful eating exercises are just one specific way by which you can enter into a mindful lifestyle. By eating mindfully, you can not only make healthy eating choices to aid in weight loss, but you can also become familiar with any anxieties about the food you might have. Slowly and with support, you can become more mindful of all your choices in order to be healthier and freer in all aspects of life.

Mindful eating quickly becomes mindful living. If you notice other aspects of your life affected by mental health challenges, including substance abuse, know that Real Recovery is prepared to help you face them. Reach out today to learn even more about our PHP, IOP and OP services, or call 855-363-7325 for help strengthening your mental health.