Have you ever found yourself at work, and you can’t remember what you had for breakfast? Or forgotten whether or not you’ve eaten, because you were driving at lunchtime, and your mind was on your afternoon meeting, and whether or not you would be able to get your presentation to load from your memory stick? Or remembered starting that pack of biscuits but having little or no recollection of eating the whole pack?
You are not alone. In today’s society, we are conditioned to run on autopilot, at 100 miles per hour, and to respond immediately (if not sooner) to emails, text messages, facebook/instagram/snapchat/twitter notifications and phone calls. It’s no wonder that we have all become skilled in the art of multi-tasking. Whilst this is great some of the time (having the ability to plan your shopping in your head whilst simultaneously appearing engaged in your colleague’s work conversation can be a real bonus), when it comes to eating, multi-tasking is less than desirable. If we multi-task while we eat, our bodies don’t send us a message that we are eating, which can lead to an unhealthy pattern of overeating, or still feeling hungry even though we’re full. Here are some more examples to help you think about whether you mindfully or mindlessly eat:
- Eating while completing other tasks
- Eating past full and ignoring body signals
- Eating alone at random places and times (for example in the car)
- Eating in response to emotions (e.g. ‘I am feeling stressed so I’ll eat’)
- Just eating when eating
- Listening to and connecting with signals that indicate you are full
- Eating with others, at set times and places (for example the dining table)
- Eating when our bodies tell us (e.g. stomach rumbling, energy low)
So is there anything we can do about this? Thankfully, there is. This is where Mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present and aware. However in this busy, multi-media, multi-tasking, on-the-go world that we live in, most of us have forgotten how to just be.
Mindfulness is a skill that allows us to be present in the moment, and to develop an awareness of our own thoughts and emotions, as well as of the world around us. Using this skill helps us to reconnect our minds and bodies with what we are experiencing in this moment by re-training the mind to notice information being delivered to the senses, and to notice and accept our experiences of thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges. As well as showing positive benefits for overall mental health and well-being, mindfulness can be beneficial for those of us who find ourselves eating mindlessly, or eating as a response to an emotional event (in mindfulness terms – acting on the urge to eat). Try to eat mindfully.
Think about your coffee before you drink it!
The beauty of mindfulness is that you already have the ability to do it, it’s just a case of reminding yourself how, and putting in some practice. Try to be mindful the next time you make a cup of coffee – notice the noise of the water as you fill up the kettle…the click of the button as you turn it on to boil. Notice the steam and the sound of the bubbles as it reaches boiling point, and the warmth of the air around the spout. Feel the weight of the kettle in your hand as you lift it to pour into the cup. Notice the sound of the water as it pours, the colour of the water changing, and the aroma of the coffee as it brews. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hand as you lift it to your mouth. Notice the taste and sensation as you mindfully drink.
I know that most of you reading this will have skipped reading the mindful cup of coffee process…and that’s OK. You haven’t yet reminded yourself of how to be in the moment. One of the elements of mindfulness is to be non-judgmental. We are our own worst critics, and mindfulness helps us to accept that we don’t always get things right all the time. When you first start to practice mindfulness, your mind will wander, similar to when it let you skip that last paragraph…the skill is to learn to be in the moment by bringing your attention back, time and time again. Like any skill, practice makes perfect.
Here are some other ideas for developing a more mindful approach to your eating that you might want to try:
Slow Down – research indicates that it takes 20-30 minutes for the body to register satiety signals (the ones that let us know we’re full!). Slowing down our eating helps our minds to register the signals so that we can be more aware of when we are physically full. You might do this by chewing your food more or putting your fork down between mouthfuls. The example above of drinking coffee mindfully could also be used to slow down your eating.
Think about your environment – eating in front of the TV or in the car often leads to mindless overeating as our minds are on other things, often not attending to the fact we are eating. Eating at the dining table, with others, helps us to connect with the process of eating and register the signals of fullness.
Learn how to comfort yourself with things other than food – as we discussed in our last article – ‘Addressing why we eat: it’s more than just hunger’ – many of us don’t just eat because of physical hunger. We have learnt to associate food and eating with managing our emotions. While many of us do this, if we do it all of the time, and eating is our only way of coping with difficult situations and emotions, it can become problematic. Finding other ways to cope when you are stressed/bored/angry can be a more helpful approach for your long-term health and well-being. See our previous article for more details.
If you would like to learn more about the skill of mindfulness, or any of the other strategies we have discussed in this article, and how it can be helpful in relation to eating, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on facebook for information on upcoming workshops.