I’ve always struggled with mindless eating—in our busy lives, it’s all too easy to shovel food into our mouths without even thinking about it. It’s become such a habit that even when I’m not rushed, I’ll swallow my food while hardly paying attention to it. The less I take the time to really taste what I’m eating, the less satisfied I am, so I eat more. Overeating has been a big result of my mindless eating, and one that I’m not too happy with. But as aware as I was about what I was doing to myself, I never noticed it until after my plate was empty.
Recently, I heard about mindful eating classes, in which you sit with a mindfulness coach and they, in a way, ‘reteach’ you how to eat. At first, it sounded odd to me—how do you teach someone how to eat mindfully?—but I decided to search out a mindful eating coach in London in the hope that they could pass along some useful advice. And I have to say, I drank the kool-aid.
I sought out the help of Mindful World, a mindfulness company in London. They coach people in general mindfulness as well as mindful eating, on both the corporate level and personally.
Miia Chambers, one of the three founding members of Mindful World, gladly agreed to help me with my mindless eating issue. An Academy of Executive Coaching accredited coach, she often works in mindfulness to improve sport performance (she’s a former professional Finnish tennis player) as well as mindful eating. Oh, and did I mention she’s one of the loveliest people I’ve met? I guess mindfulness can do that to you.
During our appointment, she helped me through several mindfulness exercises, including a tasting exercise. Tasting? Easy, I figured. It turned out to be more challenging, but also more rewarding, than I’d expected.
First, she had me hold the strawberry I’d brought in my hand. She told me to feel the weight of it in my hand, touch the texture of the food I was about to eat. I then brought it up to my face. She had me smell it, listen to it as I felt the texture, and touch it to my lips. At this point, I was ready to just pop the whole thing into my mouth. She asked me to notice how it made me feel, notice what was going on in my mouth as a reaction to the food. I was salivating. I was finally given the OK to take a little bite. It was the smallest bite I’ve ever taken of a strawberry, but also the most satisfying. I held it in my mouth, felt it as I chewed it, and noticed the sensation of swallowing it. I repeated the little bites process for about five minutes—the slowest I’ve ever eaten a strawberry in my life. But surprisingly, I felt incredibly satisfied from one small piece of fruit. I wasn’t as hungry as I’d originally thought I was.
I finally started to get it: mindfulness, including mindful eating, is about awareness in all five senses. Miia kept coming back to the idea of checking in with yourself on both a physical and emotional level: how am I feeling? Am I hungry? Am I in pain? Am I calm?
One of the burning questions I’d had before the course: how does one possibly do this in the company of others, when you’re out to eat with friends or enjoying a coffee with a colleague? She explained that the tasting exercise wasn’t meant for every bite of food you take: it’s a practice technique. And as in everything, practice leads to improvement. By practicing mindful eating, it becomes easier to do without having to push everything else out and just focus on the food. She told me that there are two approaches to mindfulness: the traditional Buddhist practice that includes meditation, silence, and blocking everything else out, and the more westernized practice, which is about incorporating mindfulness into everyday activities.
When I embarked on my challenge, I really expected to be eating mindfully every second food touched my mouth and that my habits would just be changed over the span on seven days. Sadly, I was mistaken. There’s a reason so many people eat mindlessly—the alternative is tough. There were meals where I would get through the entire thing and realize, crap, I’m supposed to be eating mindfully this week for a Healthista post. Oops.
Remembering to eat mindfully (and keeping it in mind throughout eating) was the most challenging part for me. When I did remember to eat mindfully, I often fell off the bandwagon in the middle of the meal, even though I usually came back to it around the end. However, it was nice to know that eating mindfully didn’t just mean smelling and listening to every bite (it would take an entire day to eat one meal if that was the case,) just being aware of what I was eating and how it made me feel made me realize when I was satisfied, rather than being disappointed after a delish snack was gone and reaching for more.
When I did practice mindful eating, though, I was much less likely to overeat. Halfway through a yummy lunch of brown rice and chicken, I decided to save the rest for the next day. Had I not been eating mindfully, that would not have happened. I would have eaten the whole thing, felt way too full, and still reached for something a little something sweet to round out the meal.
Another thing that I realized through practicing mindful eating: some things didn’t actually taste as good as I perceived them to. When I cheated on my gluten-free adventure weekend in Paris, I figured I might as well eat my dessert mindfully if I was going to eat it at all. What I found was that my crepe was not quite as amazing as it looked. Yes, it was good, but not really good enough to cheat on. This gave me some perspective on what’s really worth the splurge, GF or not.
I have to say, sitting in a one-to-one mindful eating course was very helpful, so I’d definitely recommend booking a session or going to a course. As Miia put it, it’s experiential, so sitting with an expert was worthwhile. Training sessions are generally 4-8 weeks, depending on the type. If you’re interested in a mindful eating class, visit their website at mindfulworld.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To get a quote or find out more about Miia’s one-to-one sessions, give her a ring at 07932 040 565.
My key takeaway from this experience: mindful eating is definitely something I will continue practicing, along with mindfulness as a whole.
Do any of you have tips and ticks you use to remind yourself to eat mindfully?
Alexa blogs at 100littlevictories.com.