In recent years psychologists and neuroscientists have been putting philosophy and ancient wisdom under the spotlight. Can these philosophies really help people with depression, anxiety disorders and even manage their weight?. The art of mindfulness certainly appears to offer something and psychotherapy based versions of mindfulness training seem to offer great promise.
At its simplest mindfulness is giving attention to what you are doing and just noticing in the moment. This is counter to what most people are doing when eating – mindless eating, paying little or no attention to the food or subtle signals from their body. Most people have experienced getting to the bottom of a packet of something and thinking ‘Have I really just eaten all them?’.
Increasingly in the world, people are getting fatter. Where consumerist societies flourish, selling more ‘stuff’ is the goal whether that be cars, smartphones or fridges, but it’s also true for food. Food companies want to sell you more food, that’s their job and they are good at it. They are so good at it we even throw food away we have bought. (which I suppose is better than eating more than you need)
So mindful eating can be a way to counter the onslaught of TV advertisers, supermarkets and your own brain’s biological and learned response to ‘eat while you can’. It’s another way to take responsibility for what food and how much you put in your mouth.
Well, one of the big problems people have with dieting is the feeling of deprivation, missing out and unfairness. This is partly due to the association between pleasure and quantity – more is better. Yet most people who have utilized mindful eating as a strategy to manage weight will tell you they feel more pleasure than when they ate large dollops of food unconsciously.
7 Easy Steps to Starting Mindful Eating
1. Make it just an experiment or a training exercise at first.
Don’t jump into every meal being a mindful experience, start small and treat it as practice.
2 Get your environment right
Make things easy for yourself in the beginning. Turn off your phone, TV, computer and practice when and where you are likely to be undisturbed.
3.Start thinking mindfully during preparation.
If you are preparing a small simple meal, let mindfulness training begin then. Savour the process of preparation. Be in the present, bring your full attention to what you are doing. Notice your breathing, become aware of your feet on the floor. Work with intention and attention and slow things down.
4. Choose a food you like and is (ideally) nourishing
I suggest if you want to test drive mindful eating, begin by practicing with a small amount of just one nourishing food such as a piece of fruit, don’t use something that you hate just because its ‘healthy’. Alternatively you might want to nip into Thornton’s and buy THE MOST expensive, quality chocolate and use that. It’s price and the fact you only have one will help you savour the experience more.
5. Savour with your senses
Bring all your senses to your awareness. See the food before you eat it, really LOOK at it, it’s colour, shape and texture. Give attention to the fragrance of your food.
6. How slow can you go?
From the start we want to slow down time, slow down the pace we are used to living and eating. Frequently linger over the smell of the food, the subtle textures you feel in your mouth and just when you think you can’t go any slower you can drop down yet another gear. Take short breaks from actually eating, put your knife and fork down if using them and just be aware of the moment even more.
7. Notice when you feel satisfied AND STOP
Many people miss the signal of satiation, you may not have this when practicing with small amounts of food, but you definitely will when you experiment with your main meals. We all experience fleeting feelings of satiation, feeling we’ve had enough, that come in waves, catch the wave and push the plate otherwise you will be compelled to keep on eating as the feeling ebbs.
Its important to practice and set yourself up to succeed by setting achievable outcomes. That might be eating a baked bean in 3 minutes initially, then extending the period with larger portions and multiple foods.
Reflect on the exercise and afterwards write about your experiences and thoughts. Create a scale of 0 to 10 to rate how well you think you are doing 0 being total failure and 10 being you nailed it totally. How will you know? Trust your judgement. As you become more skilful you will notice much much more.
When you feel the time is right, begin using the approach with your main meal and treat this as the next stage of your experiment.You may start to notice that you have a more mindful state naturally when you are doing other things. Being ‘Present’ is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
Don’t be surprised when you start off your mind is all over the place. You may only manage 30 seconds of attention on what your eating and then suddenly you’re thinking about something else or shovelling it down without noticing. Remember, think of it as an experiment, you are just observing as time goes by. There is no judgement just observation.Just bring your attention back and continue.
Its also common to start off enthusiastically for a couple of days then ‘forget’ to practice. Or you are ‘too busy’ and if you think back to dieting regimes you probably had similar experiences.
When I work with clients who want to enjoy food and stay in a healthy weight range, one of the first things we do is learn self hypnosis. This altered state can be used in conjunction with special techniques to increase motivation and help create new habits such as mindful eating. The combination is very powerful and the sense of control clients notice is often profound.
Have an outcome/goal in mind. It might be to weigh a certain weight or fit into a dress size. Remind yourself of your goal everyday to stay motivated and plan a progression of eating mindfully so that you eat less and enjoy more.
If you are interested in working one to one, you can contact me at The Old Vicarage in Nailsea or by phone.
Michael Orme 01934 645538