What the heck is mindful eating?
According to the Oxford dictionary, mindfulness is "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." People often practice mindfulness exercises first thing in the morning with meditation or activities like yoga. However, if we try to incorporate mindfulness practices, even just casually, into our eating and make it a habit, we could easily transform our conception of food, our relationship with food, and ultimately, our health. As Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and lecturer at Harvard says, "because we're working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we're not fully aware of what we're eating. And this mindless eating - a lack of awareness of the food we're consuming - may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic and other health issues" (1). He also says that "the concept of mindful eating goes beyond the individual. It also encompasses how what you eat affects the world. We eat for total health" (1).
The essence of mindful eating is just to pay attention to what you are eating. That's it. However, to truly master mindful eating - to be truly attentive, be at the present, and be at one with the food - takes a lot of practice. Below I will list a few steps as to how to truly master mindful eating.
1. Concentrate on your plate
Nowadays, most of us eat at either a social setting where you are constantly distracted by conversations with other people, or at a private setting where we feel compelled to turn on the TV or watch YouTube on our devices. However, being distracted by our surroundings distances us from what is on the plate. One example is the movie theater, where people go watch movies with a full bag of popcorn and, in no time, the popcorn is all eaten up. People focus so much on the movie that they don't pay attention to what they're putting in their bodies, nor do they listen to their body's signal of fullness. I'm not telling you not to eat popcorn the next time you watch a movie, or to stay stone cold silent next time you're on a dinner date, but when you get the chance to, find a quiet setting and concentrate on what's on the plate. Look at what you're eating, appreciate it, and listen to your body's response.
2. Let your body connect with your brain
According to mindful.org, the body only sends satiation signals around 20 minutes after the brain does, causing most fast eaters to constantly unconsciously overeat (2). Try slowing down, and let the body fully connect with your brain. Let your body catch up to your brain, and listen to what your body is telling you. That way, you can prevent overeating and have a more pleasant eating experience.
3. Understand what your body needs
Ever felt guilty after eating an unhealthy meal full of processed foods and refined sugar? Good job, but not good enough. While being guilty is the first step to show that you do understand the health consequences of your indulgences, next time, try thinking about those consequences before you indulge in such products. Does your body really need those refined sugar? By doing so, we could make healthier food choices and cut out those so-called comfort foods. We will be more inclined to enjoy healthy foods and ultimately "finding many foods mentally and physically satisfying as opposed to just a few" (2).
4. Appreciate the food with all your senses
Food is more than just its taste. Pay attention to their textures, colors, aromas, and appreciate their origins and processes of production. Doing so will make it easier to appreciate what has been served for us, and this simple practice of gratefulness can also improve our overall mental well-being.
5. Slow down
Just slow down. I mean, what's the rush? Okay, maybe sometimes you will be in a hurry because you have to get back to work in twenty minutes, but next time, plan ahead and spare some more time for eating. Chew more thoroughly and enjoy every bite you take. Put down your utensils each time after you take a bite. Doing so not only aids your digestive system but also your overall appreciation for the food, as mentioned in the step above. So, take some time, and slow down. It's really not that deep.