If the topic of mindfulness conjures up images of monks chanting "om" don't stop reading. That's not what this is about at all. Mindfulness has been the buzz in the world of psychology for quite some time now, and every time I thumb through research articles or attend a conference, I keep hearing more about the benefits of mindfulness when it comes to eating.
What is mindfulness? In general terms, it's being fully present and aware of the moment without judgment.
Applied to food, this means eating without distractions. When we're distracted we eat unconsciously, which is one of the biggest barriers to intuitive eating. How are you supposed to be able to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full if you're not paying attention?
For many of us, eating without distractions is extremely uncomfortable. We are so distracted all the time that the "nothingness" of undistracted time can provoke anxiety. Think about the distractions you're experiencing right now, perhaps your phone, computer, music, conversation, food, drink, etc.
Try closing your eyes and sitting for just 10 seconds undistracted. Weird, huh? Research shows that if you were to do this for 20 minutes per day you'd have lower anxiety, lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, and much more. But meditation isn't what we're talking about today.
The benefits of mindful eating include being able to recognize satiety before you're uncomfortably full, deriving more sensory pleasure from each bite of food, improved digestion, a greater appreciation for the experience of a meal, and much more.
For those with eating disorders, sometimes mindful eating can be overwhelming at first and we actually implement distractions in order to get them through their meals. The initial stages of a meal plan can be quite uncomfortable as the body has to get used to digesting normally again, especially for someone undergoing refeeding (weight restoration). So in this instance we reserve mindful eating for when they are back to physical health and normal GI functioning.
Mindful eating can help repair a your relationship with food. The key is being nonjudgmental. It's ok to observe that you don't like the taste of a food on your plate, that doesn't mean you have to judge it as bad. Removing the judgement from eating allows you to connect with your body's signals for hunger and satiety, resulting in eating the amount of food that matches what your body needs.
For most people who practice mindful eating, the mindfulness skills spill over into other areas of their life. They become more mindful of everyday tasks like taking a shower or doing the dishes. They are calmer, more emotionally resilient and less reactive to negative emotions.
For more tips on mindful eating visit The Center For Mindful Eating.