For most of us, eating was easy when we were children. Research confirms that young children intuitively know how much food they need. When these intuitive eaters get older eating is no longer just a moment to recharge their batteries. Food starts to serve various other purposes. It is used to comfort, to distract, to postpone, to make us feel numb, to reward and even to punish. The relationship between hunger, eating and satisfying feelings of physical hunger were clear and simple when we are young. As we grow older they become intertwined with thoughts and emotions. Our eating pattern becomes driven by different factors and types of hunger.
We can let go of unwanted habit patterns through the power of attention. Mindfulness training can free us of unwanted thoughts and emotions which influence the way we eat. You can stop the love-hate relationship with food by learning to eat and drink consciously. This means that we are completely conscious of every bite and sip we take. Eating and drinking consciously is a good medicine for eating and weight problems. You learn to listen to the deeper wisdom of your body so that you can have a harmonious relationship with food. You learn to understand what your body is telling you about what it really feels. Consequently, you can discover when and how much you can eat without feeling guilty or overeating. Mindfulness training is an important skill which helps you to attain a healthy weight and to thoroughly enjoy food. It works by starting from within.
People frequently ask me to give them some tips so that they can get to work right away. Here are two experiments followed by ten tips. Even though Mindful eating is comprehensive these suggestions can give you something to hold on to. They are also useful when you have fallen back into your old eating patterns.
Drinking water mindfully
Eating mindfully means that you eat and drink with your undivided attention and that you are conscious of every bite you take. Hunger can be confused with thirst. If you appear to be hungry, first drink a large glass of water. After that, see if this feeling has changed.
I encourage you to do this experiment with a glass of water. Go back to your little retreat and make sure that you are not disturbed! Listen to this exercise (narrated by Joanna Kortink: download here)
The power of Mindfulness training is invaluable. These short moments of mindfulness help us to change our old ways. This is the first step toward balanced eating habits. Drinking mindfully is good preparation for letting our body be our guide. In the same way, you come to trust your ability to recognize the hunger for food. You can ask yourself the same questions about food as about water.
During this experiment you give your undivided attention to eating a small piece of food. For this exercise you need: a raisin or a strawberry, a sunflower seed, a nut or a cherry tomato. Other foods, like a small cracker, work as well₁.
You make contact with your senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. Try to open yourself completely to the experience. If you notice that thoughts or other occurrences are distracting your attention, gently bring your attention back to your sensory experience. This exercise is essential preparation for an exercise in week 3, so don’t skip it! This experiment may be difficult at first, but the more you practice eating different kinds of food, mindfully, the easier it will become to determine the type of hunger you have. This will increase your confidence in developing a balanced relationship with food.
Listen to the exercise at least once a day. Keep practicing this, until the ability to recognize different types of hunger becomes second nature to you. At first you might do this exercise without being able to gauge how hungry you are. But as you become more familiar with this experiment you will notice that it will get easier to determine your degree of hunger on a scale of 1 to 10.
Some questions might seem pointless to you and maybe you can’t answer all of them or maybe you are distracted. If you notice this, accept it and move on. Listen to this exercise (narrated by Joanna Kortink: download here)
Ten suggestions for getting started with mindful eating
- Turn your attention to the NOW
Starting with a ritual before you eat will help you to be in the here and now. For example, you can consciously follow your breathing or take a moment to express your gratitude to everyone who has contributed to this food. You can also say a prayer or pause for a moment of silence.
- Always eat at the same place
When you always eat snacks in front of the TV, then eventually you will get hungry as soon as you pick up the remote control. By eating at the table and never eating while watching TV or reading, you “disconnect” your activities which are associated with food. Try to make the place inviting.
- Eat sitting down at a quiet place
Sit down, preferably in peaceful surroundings. Don’t eat while riding a bike or driving.
- Eat without distractions
Give yourself the chance to focus your attention on your meal and to enjoy it. That means no TV, radio, newspaper, book, cell phone or computer while you are eating. Put off heated discussions until a later
- Take modest portions
Modest portions help to prevent you from eating too much. Only have one serving. Using a small plate cuts your intake by about 20 percent.
- Eat with enjoyment by getting all of your senses involved
our tongue is the key to eating with enjoyment. When you put the first bite in your mouth, wait before you start chewing. Observe the flavor as if you were tasting this food for the first time. Also be aware of your other senses. What do you smell? What do you see? Is it appealing to you?
- Take small bites and chew well
Consciously taking small bites and chewing them well helps you to taste the food better and to eat more slowly. This also makes you feel satisfied more quickly. Chew every bite until the food in your mouth
becomes liquid. This is good for your digestion and more flavors are released. Try to pay special attention to your tongue while in the process of tasting, chewing and swallowing.
- Eat slowly to prevent overeating
The reason that many people eat too much is that they eat too fast. Eating slowly and pausing in between bites helps you to become of aware of when you are comfortably satisfied. This way you stop before
you have eaten too much. One way to eat slowly is to lay down your utensils in between two bites. This also helps you to enjoy your food more.
- Do not skip meals
When you skip meals, you become hungrier which makes it difficult for you to make conscious (food) choices. This can lead to stuffing yourself with any food you have got on hand. You then eat more that you are aware of. Try to eat at the same time every day so that your body settles into a balanced rhythm.
- Why do you want to eat?
Before you eat, take a moment to ask yourself: why do I want to eat?
Am I really hungry (need for nourishment) or is it pseudo-hunger (need for filling)?
You can start with these ten tips and if you really want to learn the art of mindful eating, begin by observing your (often sabotaging) thoughts and feelings. This is one of the most important skills you can learn from Joanna Kortink’s books.