Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. Individuals are encouraged to pay attention to the experience of the body and to where in the body hunger and satisfaction is experienced as well as the subtle transitions from hungry to full. Through mindfulness, one not only gives attention to the body but also to the mind while holding non-judgement or neutrality toward this process. This creates a witness-consciousness and allows for an individual to learn more about their relationship to food and symptoms. In addition to being present to the body and mind, mindful eating encourages noticing how eating effects mood or how emotions influence eating. This holistic process of noticing, becoming present to and witnessing our eating experience lends itself to Intuitive eating.
As you practice structured eating there is a wonderful possibility that becomes available…mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as:
The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something or a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
When you practice structure over and over again you can begin to become aware of your experience of eating and feeding yourself. In a mindful eating practice you are still using structured eating (the foundations of when, what and how much to eat) but start to become curious about what you’re noticing. Mindful eating includes noticing food preferences, hunger and satiety cues and using your senses to gather more information about the food. For instance these following mindful statements may be observed while practicing structured eating:
I’m hungry when I wake up.
I like the combination of turkey and avocado on a sandwich.
I love the smell of waffles.
I don’t like peppers.
I feel full and satisfied after eating my dinner.
Consider how much you know about what you like and what you don’t like to eat. How do you feel about having these preferences? Taking a stance of what you like and don’t like can be empowering but also scary. At the same time, it’s important to discern the difference between food preferences and food fears or food attachments. For example, saying something like, ‘I don’t like bread’ might feel very true in the moment but could actually be that bread is a scary food item, therefore what you may not like is the feelings that come up around eating bread but you do in fact like bread. Or, you may love chocolate ice cream and love sautéed broccoli but notice that you’re eating chocolate ice cream in large quantities most nights after a stressful day at work. Although you like both chocolate ice cream and sautéed broccoli, the chocolate ice cream has become a coping mechanism for stress and so you may have an attachment with chocolate ice cream.
Consider two foods you like and 2 foods you don’t like.
Now consider if you have any food fears associated with the foods you don’t like or any food attachments to the foods you do like.
Notice what it’s like to get clear on food preferences.
Hunger and Satiety Cues:
Becoming aware and acquainted with your hunger and satiety cues are an integral part of integrated eating. Knowing when and how hungry and full you are can seem simple and feel obvious but it is actually a complex process that takes mindfulness to understand. There are two ways a body communicates huger and fullness: how empty or full your stomach is and the state of your blood sugar. For instance, in the stomach there are stretch receptors that signal to the body when it is empty or when it is full. This is the usual way people figure out that they need to eat or stop eating. However there is another important aspect of hunger and satiety. When you haven’t eaten the glucose in your blood is low and that signals the brain that it’s time to refuel. Sometimes you may notice low energy, irritability, poor concentration or a headache as a result. The combination of an empty stomach and low blood glucose levels create a more intense hunger signals and a grumbling stomach. When you’ve eaten a meal, glucose enters your blood stream and letting the brain know it has what it needs nutrient wise to get things accomplished in the body for the next few hours. The combination of a full stomach and glucose entering the blood stream create a sense of fullness AND satiety.
Notice times you ‘feel’ hungry. What do you notice in your stomach? Do you also feel low in energy or feel slightly irritable?
After a meal what do you notice in your stomach? Do you feel full and satisfied?
Using Your Senses:
The final aspect of Mindful Eating is allowing your 5 senses to enter into your eating experience. How often do we eat a meal and hardly take stock of what it actually tasted like? Our senses are very important for creating a complete experience of eating. How might you use your senses when you eat? Imagine that you have a hot bowl of oatmeal loaded with berries and topped with milk. First, consider what you see? You may notice the bright berries or the white of the milk as it seeps around the oats. Next imagine what you might smell if you had the opportunity: fragrant berries and the grainy smell of warm oats wafting into your nose. As you brought the spoon of oatmeal into your mouth you could feel the warmth of the oats as well as the cool berries bursting as you chewed. You might hear your mouth swishing around the mushy oats and fresh berries. As for the taste you notice the sweetness of the strawberries as well as the tartness of the blueberries. Just as your mouth settled into that experience it was met with the texture of the oats and the creaminess of the milk. Mmmmm yummy!
The example suggests that actually getting the food into your stomach for digestion is only part of why we eat. The sensual aspects of food create the context of the experience. Our senses, sight, smell, hearing, touching and tasting allow for a complete and integrated experience of food.
The next meal or snack, take a few moments to be with the food and your senses. What do you see, smell, feel , hear and taste?
What is it like to be with your food in this way?
In the Mindful Eating Phase one learns how to truly explore and learn about the experience of food and feeding by being present to what’s actually happening. When we practice mindful eating we have an opportunity to know about our preferences, our hunger and satiety cues and how to use our senses to have a richer experience of eating.