All of us have experienced that gut busting feeling after eating way too much, too fast. Most of the time when I’ve been in this situation, I look back on it and don’t even remember enjoying the culprit of my discomfort. I probably ate whatever it was so fast that it was just that much easier to shove more of it down my throat. The only thing that matters is filling the void and stopping my stomach from growling.
Now, before you judge, I believe that most of us eat this way. Sure, we have our favorite foods, and we may enjoy – to a certain degree – whatever we are eating. But, if we are honest, most of us will have to admit that many times our meals simply serve the purpose of comfort.
So before I go into what I mean by “mindful eating,” I’d like you to participate in an experiment. Think about your last meal. Now really describe it. Go ahead, write it down. Now look at what you wrote. How descriptive is it, actually? If your description is like most people’s, you will have written what it was that you ate, and how good it was. You may have even written down some general descriptions of how it tasted. But, these are most likely very general.
For example, a typical description may be something like:
• Hamburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake.
• All were very good, but the fries were a little salty. The milkshake really filled me up; it was very thick.
• I really enjoyed the meal. I was in a hurry, it was quick, and it tasted good.
• I’m satisfied, but probably ate more than I should have.
But what does this actually tell you other than you ate a hamburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake, it was “good,” and it filled you up. How mindful are you really being about what you ate?
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is attentive eating. This means actually paying attention to what, and how, you eat. It means being in the present moment when you eat. When you eat mindfully, you pay focus on the tastes and textures of the food you are eating. You also pay attention to the thoughts, reactions, and sensations you have to each bite or chew.
Mindful eating is actually meditative eating. It is about experiencing your meals, not simply consuming them.
How to eat mindfully
Eating mindfully can be challenging because its something that most of us never really considered, much less attempted. As I mentioned before, mindful eating is a form of meditation. Fundamentally, eating mindfully is about really paying attention to how you experience your meals.
To get started, find a piece of chocolate (not a bar of chocolate – just a piece). Now find someplace where you can concentrate on the experience of eating it. Notice how the chocolate feels in your hands, how it looks, how it smells.
Now, take a small bite of the chocolate. Notice the texture. Really think of how you would describe it. Same with the taste. Are there nuances? Is it dark, milky, nutty? Again, be specific. Really attempt to identify the tastes, textures and other descriptors of the chocolate. Take your time. If it helps, close your eyes.
As you are noticing how the chocolate feels and tastes, also notice how you are reacting to it. What are your thoughts, emotions, physical reactions? A really good piece of chocolate should evoke many of each! Notice how the chocolate feels as you swallow it.
Now repeat with every bite. Don’t gobble the chocolate down. Give yourself a chance to experience what it is like to really enjoy your food. Try writing down a description of this experience, and compare it to what you wrote before. I’ll bet you will see a big difference. I also bet you will feel more fulfilled.