Are you hearing more about mindfulness and mindful eating? Who doesn’t want to learn to enjoy food more and break the habit of constant mindless snacking? But the thought of having to put in hours of time to practice into an abstract practice was a definite no for me. Little did I know, mindfulness is a relatively simple task, requiring small bouts of awareness that eventually (with continued practice) give way to more connected eating habits.
In this post, we outline:
The concept of ‘mindfulness’ has been around for thousands of years – but has really gained popularity in recent years. Mindfulness refers to the practice of ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4). It is a skill that can be learned.
Essentially, the idea of mindfulness is to allow thoughts and feelings to be noticed, acknowledged, and accepted without judging the content of the thoughts. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and noticing what is happening, without attachment to what we notice. It is awareness with kindness.
Mindfulness contrasts with what occurs when we are not focused on the present moment, when our minds wander, daydream, plan, ruminate, fester, fantasize and allow us to act automatically, mindlessly and mechanically while our thoughts are centered elsewhere.
Mindfulness can help reduce your suffering. Mindfulness has been applied as a strategy to help people in the many areas they struggle, including stress, sleep, depression, anxiety, addictions, eating, disordered eating and more.
With practicing mindfulness, you can notice and be with your own thoughts, feelings and sensations, without engaging with them, as this engagement is what brings us suffering. Instead, you let them pass by, just like clouds in a sky, or cars on a highway. Coming back to your breath (or using other mindfulness practices) helps to steady your mind.
Mindfulness helps you develop the ability to objectively observe your moment-to-moment experience with kindness. You can watch your own experience from a third-person stance. It is not about “being good” at mindfulness. It is not about having a certain kind of experience; it is about noticing the experience that you are having and doing so with kindness.
Let’s explore what mindless eating is first, as I’d guess it’s a topic many of us are more familiar with (no judgement here, it’s something I’m very familiar with too!). I’d bet that almost everyone reading this has partaken in mindless eating at some point, even if you don’t quite know it.
Yeah, me too, and that is what we call mindless eating. Some call this distracted eating.**
** As you relate to this experience, remember that we are not judging this tendency as good or bad. Instead, we are noticing these tendencies with curiosity, as if we were watching ourselves in our own life. This non-attachment, non-judging is a critical part of mindfulness (this is actually a skill called “decentering”). We are noticing our experience with kindness.
Mindless eating is quite common, and it’s what is often happening when we’re eating without paying attention.
When we eat mindlessly, we tune out the signals that would help us answer those questions. Mindless eating causes us to ignore what our body is telling us, whether we are hungry in the first place, and if we are, what kind of hunger we have, as well as what types of food and how much of it we actually want and need to feel satisfied, both physically AND emotionally.
Note that this isn’t about there being a “right” or “wrong” way to eat. It is about slowing down, becoming curious about our body’s needs and exploring the different ways our body might want to be nourished.
The more time we spend tuning out of our body’s signals, the more likely we are to lose sensitivity to what our body is telling us when we eat. Ignoring our body’s hunger, fullness, satisfaction and other signals desensitizes us to what our body is communicating, making it difficult to acknowledge what foods or how much food our body truly wants.
Mindful eating can help to bring people back into harmony with their body, at least when it comes to food, and to be kind to ourselves along the way.
Mindfulness is a skill that is practiced. It is not a relaxation strategy. There are many ways it can be practiced.
Many people start their mindfulness practice with attention to their breath. If you haven’t tried a mindfulness of breath practice, it goes something like this:
The mindfulness of breath practice is an iterative practice between steps 2 and 3, and through this process, helps to develop the muscle of mindfulness.
There are many different mindfulness practices – mindfulness of breath, choiceless awareness, loving kindness, sacred pause, body gratitude, self-compassion, and more. Having a knowledgeable and skilled teacher/guide will help you develop this skill.
Here are a few resources that may be of interest to you:
Stay tuned for more on Mindful Eating.
I have heard for years that mindfulness is a strategy that could help me in my life. I resisted this suggestion as I didn’t understand what mindfulness is, and the thought of sitting with my thoughts didn’t make sense to my Type-A personality.
Then, I was “forced” to explore it when I signed up for the Mindfulness-based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) course in October 2020. It was through exposure to mindfulness in this course that my practice of mindfulness began. Learning this skill has improved my life in immeasurable ways. I know that I have so much more to learn. And, I know I need to keep practicing, as my life is better with my mindfulness practice.
Melissa Biddle, BA&Sc in Neuroscience, BSc in Nutrition and Food Sciences, Dietetics Specialization, MSc (candidate)
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, CBE, MB-EAT-P, Dietitian & Nutritionist with Energize Nutrition
Creswell JD. Mindfulness Interventions. Ann Rev Psychol. 2017. 68: 491-516. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27687118/
Kabat-Zinn J. Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion; 1994.