There are many different techniques to approach mindful eating, but they all serve the same purpose: To bring awareness to your eating. For the sake of this being a helpful article, I'll lay out a few methods you can start practicing today.
1. Why Am I Eating?
Asking yourself why is an important first step to becoming a mindful eater.
Ask yourself: Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Tired? Thirsty? Bored? Sad?
Connect with your intention to make sure that it is an appropriate reason to eat. If you're eating because your emotional or tired, it may not be the best time to do so. Instead of eating to appease those feelings, maybe take a walk, do an activity you enjoy, or spend time with a loved one.
2. What Am I Eating?
The type of food you eat is paramount when it comes to your overall health.
Ask yourself: What are you eating? Is it serving your health?
Developing food ethos is important for mindful eating. What matters to you when it comes to your diet? For some people, eating organic, non-GMO, or supporting local farms may be important. For others, it may be about pursuing a specific style of eating (like ketosis) that requires a mindful macronutrient approach.
No matter how you decide to fuel your body (because there is no one-size-fits-all diet), do it mindfully. Decide what it is you stand for, and what your goals are, and then from there create a framework of foods that support your decisions. Remember that these goals and values may evolve over time, so check-in with yourself regularly to ensure your diet is still serving you.
3. How Am I Eating?
Eating on-the-go, too quickly, or in a state of distraction generally means the body is in ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, known as a sympathetic state. However, proper digestion occurs in a parasympathetic state, while the body is in ‘rest-and-digest’ mode. Tapping into the parasympathetic state requires slowing down the body and the mind.
Ask yourself: What state are your mind and body in right now as you're eating?
To optimize digestion and eat more mindfully, carve out a period of time to stop what you’re doing and simply eat. Focus on eating more slowly and chewing properly. Try to avoid unnecessary distractions like technology, working, or driving.
4. How Am I Engaging With My Food? What Is My Relationship To the Experience?
These two questions address your physical and emotional relationship with your food. Getting in touch with how your food makes you feel can help you tailor your diet to help you optimize your fasts, and thrive in this life.
Ask yourself: How does this food make you feel? Do you feel energized? Bloated? Lethargic?
In addition to your physical feeling, it's also important to tune into your emotions. A healthy relationship with food should not induce any guilt or regret. A diet that promotes shame after a meal is more likely to lead to unhealthy habits like deprivation or binging.
When you connect to the types of foods that make you feel good and eat from a place of loving awareness, fasting(time between meals) compliments otherwise healthy eating patterns. If you do long term fasting as a punishment for unhealthy or mindless binge eating, it can quickly spiral downwards into disordered eating patterns.
Exercises for Mindful Eating
Once you have a better understanding of your eating habits and relationship with food, try some of the following exercises to cultivate more mindful eating habits during your next meal.
1. The Raisin Meditation
The ‘raisin meditation’ is generally (and unsurprisingly) done with a raisin, but it can be performed with any type of food. The meditation takes you through a fully conscious consumption of a raisin, from the time you pick it up, all the way through digestion. Although it’s not realistic to do this with every meal, it can be useful to stop and connect this deeply with food every so often.
The raisin meditation is especially powerful when done with the very first foods you consume each day. While you are in a more hyper-aware fasted state from not eating over night, try going through the following steps as you eat your first meal of the day.
Holding: Hold the raisin in your hand or between your fingers.
Seeing: Give the raisin your full attention, examine it like it’s something totally foreign that you’ve never seen before. Focus on every curve, wrinkle, ridge, and crease. Notice how the raisin changes under the light as you move it around in your hand.
Touching: Slowly run your finger around the raisin, or turn it between your fingers. How does it feel? Explore the texture. You can do this with your eyes closed if it helps you focus.
Smelling: With your eyes closed, hold the raisin up to your nose and focus on the scent with every inhale. With a slow and steady breath, take in the aromas and notice the impact that the scent is having on your mouth, stomach, and body.
Placing: Slowly bring the raisin to your lips and gently place it in your mouth. Notice how effortlessly your body orchestrates the movement to coordinate the placement. Sit for a moment with the raisin on your tongue, and this new sensation of having it in your mouth.
Tasting: Notice the movement that the raisin must take before you can chew it, and how effortlessly your mouth knows how to get it in place. Take one or two chews into the raisin, and really focus on the experience of flavor as it comes in waves. Notice the physical sensation of the flavors bursting out of the raisin, how they hit the tongue, and how they make you feel. Pay attention to the change in texture, flavor, and how the raisin itself transforms as you chew it.
Swallowing: Notice the intention to swallow as it arises, before you actually swallow it.
Following: Finish off with an awareness of the raisin going down your throat, and into your stomach. Sit with your body as a whole once you have finished swallowing and the feelings that arise after eating so mindfully.
2. Put Down Your Fork In Between Bites
Although the raisin meditation is a great way to really check-in with your food, it’s not always possible to meditate your way through every single meal. Especially if you have, like, a life or something.
You can, however, cultivate generally slower eating habits that force you to pay more attention to your eating patterns.
Eating too fast is hard on digestion, and also prevents you from noticing satiety, which often results in over-consumption of food. Slowing down when you eat can improve your gratitude for food, digestion, satiety, and help you consume less overall.
There are a few ways to slow down during meals, but one of the easiest ways is to set down your fork in between bites. The simple act of putting your fork down after each bite reduces the likelihood of shoveling more food down before you have properly chewed and swallowed the previous bite.
You can also set a timer for a longer period of time (say, 25 minutes per meal) and aim to space out your meal so that you finish at the same time that your alarm goes off. This might take some practice, but with time you will indeed learn to slow down your eating and appreciate each bite even more.
3. Put Away Electronics
It has become commonplace for many people to eat dinner with the TV on or while scrolling through Instagram. However, eating in a distracted state takes our mind away from food and often results in the same issues of overeating and impaired digestion.
Commit to eating technology-free, and instead direct your attention to the people around you or simply the food on your plate. Even if being completely present is too hard at first, try reflecting on your day, or thinking about the future—but without any screens involved.
Modern society promotes mindless eating, so cultivating the habit may take some un-learning and regular practice.
Before eating, asking yourself questions like “why am I eating? what am I eating? how am I eating? and what relationship do I have with my food?” can help you bring more conscious awareness to your eating habits and prepare your mind for intentional eating.
You can practice the simple mindful eating practices discussed to encourage healthier eating choices, better digestion, less over-consumption, and a greater appreciation for food.