We have all been there – that moment where you are staring into an empty packet of crisps or reaching for the last block of a slab of double caramel chocolate and having no idea how that happened…and yes, it did happen…and no, I am not necessarily saying here that chocolate or crisps are the enemy. What I am talking about is mindless eating – eating that is not driven by hunger, but by emotions.
Our eating is heavily influenced by our “fast-paced” lifestyle which makes it so much easier and faster to fix up that microwave meal or the grab-and-go salad (or pizza-slice) and let’s not forget the morning brew-on-the run. Our eating is also influenced by emotions that we may not like to feel, and instead, make us reach for the cookie jar. This, of course, only works short-term as emotions are a little more stubborn than that – if fact all you are doing is hitting the snooze button and after a while, they come back with a vengeance.
Our triggers for emotion-based eating are often based on childhood experiences or significant life events. I like to refer to these triggers as “sensitivities”. For some of us, this may be feeling not good enough, for others, it may be loneliness. For others, it may be conflict in relationships and so on. These sensitivities can stand in the way of feeling connected to ourselves. When teaming up with their best mate – mindless eating – they can really be a barrier to achieving our goals. For example, reaching for that triple choc sundae when procrastinating on completing the work assignment due tomorrow. Yes, it may work in the short term but the emotions are only sleeping and they will awake at some point! I would say it is much more helpful if we can buckle up and buddy up with our emotions than hanging out with the empty cookie jar. Wouldn’t you agree?
How to start eating mindfully
Mindful eating is much more than just tackling that meal one-bite-at time and chewing that raisin for the hundredth time. Now, HOW do we actually do this thing called mindful eating?
It all starts with being more aware of how our bodies are feeling in the moment. Often if we have been stuck in patterns of avoiding our emotions, it may be quite hard to identify them. Becoming aware of our physical experience is a good place to start. Becoming aware of what your body may need and may benefit from in the moment. What it feels like and what would make it feel better, rather than what your brain is telling you, you are allowed to eat or not allowed to eat. Perhaps this means being aware that instead of food, you may need rest. By growing in awareness, you are starting to learn to trust the messages your body is sending you.
By growing in kind awareness you learn which sensitivities trigger the urge to eat – i.e. do you eat when you are feeling upset after conflict, do you eat when you are actually in need of rest, do you eat to procrastinate when needing to complete a challenging task? Mindful eating is about paying attention to WHAT you are feeling and WHEN you are feeling it and then responding in a way that would be kind, nurturing and fulfilling to YOU and your body.
Tips to start
Specific mindful eating boosters that have been helpful for me along my journey to kick-start awareness have been:
Before each meal, take a moment to do a quick body scan to tune in to the physical sensations, to connect to your body, and what it may need in that moment.
Allow time for eating, with that being all you focus on – it does not matter whether it is 5 or 60 minutes. Sit down, enjoy every bite, and then go back to what it is you were doing before or need to do next. You and your body deserve that mini reset.
When you have eaten something that does not make you feel at your best or have one of those empty-tub-of-ice-cream kind of moments, try to pay attention to your thoughts and change them to compassionate thoughts. Move on from that eating event by responding with compassion, nurturing you and your body during the next meal rather than for example reacting with restrictive eating.
Each meal could be an opportunity to tune in to your senses. Create the space that would best allow for that when you do eat – be it cleaning your desk, putting your phone out of sight or lighting a candle at home. Celebrate your meal and YOU with every opportunity.
Make the whole process from shop to table a mindful experience where you take time to plan what would make you thrive food-wise. When you go grocery shopping, maintain focus on that question – what would make me feel and function at my best?
As you embark on this process of noticing, connecting to your body and YOU, that healthy relationship with yourself will emerge – one bite at a time. In fact, if you truly listen to your physical and emotional needs, creativity will flow, goals will be achieved, and you can unleash the best version of you! So…next time you find yourself at an eating crossroad, first ask yourself, what is it that I feel right now? What is it that I need right now? Most importantly, what will make me thrive right now?
Lize’s mindful eating story
Since I was a child I have had food intolerances, which have resulted in often experiencing incredible discomfort and pain after eating certain foods. Over the years, initially out of desperation and later due to starting my own mindfulness journey, I became more in touch with what made me feel good in terms of what I was putting into my body. As I did so, I noticed that not only did my relationship with food and my body change but that I intuitively started making changes in other areas in my life that were no longer serving me. For example, running from one thing to the next, often without allowing myself enough time to take that breather that my body and I really needed to function optimally. Making changes, like purposefully slowing down including with meals, has had a profound impact on my wellbeing, energy levels and productivity. It also made me more and more curious about this concept of “mindful eating”.
Lize is available for counseling sessions focussing on mindful eating and body image in Kingsland, Auckland.