It might surprise you, but on any given day, we will make over 200 decisions about our food — even decisions as simple as whether we will eat cereal instead of eggs for breakfast, but also the kind of cereal we will eat, the amount of milk we add to it (if we add any), and whether or not we finish the entire bowl.
In the process of making these choices, we tend to be rather mindless about eating. A number of factors dictate our behavior. The larger the plate, the more we eat. The more we see, the more we eat. The closer it is, the more we eat. Time and again, we repeat these behaviors.
Perhaps more important than being mindful about our food choices — is how mindful we are when we eat.
If you’ve ever gulped an entire meal so quickly you don’t even remember what it tasted like, or blamed yourself for overstuffing, you know the cost of mindless eating. When it comes to eating, most of us have an ongoing internal dialogue going on, filled with thoughts and emotions that distract all our attention from the food in front of us. We also eat while on the phone, with the TV on, and at our desk. Because our brains can only process one thing at a time, we miss out on enjoying our meal, never becoming aware that we’ve actually had enough.
The opposite of mindless eating is mindful eating. Mindful eating turns the simple, daily act of eating into a fulfilling experience.
It starts by becoming aware that the act of eating itself includes seeing, smelling, chewing, and swallowing. And it then extends to becoming aware of the influence the ingested food has on your body and mind — and eventually to being considerate of the whole Earth, which provides us with this life force we call food.
Mindful eating requires a heightened sense of consciousness to experience the sensations of eating and digesting, and appreciating food as a source of energy. This might mean turning off any distracting sounds, or eating silently even if we are with other people.
Closing your eyes or looking downward can help you pay more attention to the way chewing feels inside your mouth. Chewing thoroughly and allowing yourself to absorb the nutrients and energy stored in the food, and swallowing slowly, feeling the food enter your digestive system, are other ways to heighten our awareness.
Sensing not only what we are eating but also why we are eating, can increase the benefits of the food on your body and brain. Eating with gratitude, and looking at the energy your food provides as energy to benefit the people around you, can make eating a very meaningful act.
When eating mindfully, we can increase our sensitivity for making healthier choices about what, and how much, we eat. We become aware of our internal hunger. Researchers have found that teaching mindful eating skills can change bad eating patterns. Trials using the mindful eating approach have shown that participants significantly reduced compulsive eating habits, improved self-control, lost weight, and maintained their weight loss for over 16 months.
I encourage you to mind your food business with four simple rules. Eat a little less. Eat more slowly. Eat with joy. Feel your connection to the Earth and others while you eat. You’ll see your whole life taking a positive turn!
This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s print edition.