Have you heard of the terms ‘mindful eating’ or ‘mindless eating’? There may be an obesity epidemic in our country right now, but I also think there is a mindless eating epidemic. People everywhere are eating constantly without even tasting what’s in their mouths. In their cars, the movies, on the beach, in the grocery store, watching TV, walking down the street, at work… wherever you go people are eating. The problem is that when you eat mindlessly and don’t experience what you are actually consuming, you won’t be as satisfied by it and will end up eating more without even realizing it.
Mindfulness and mindlessness carry through all aspects of the day, not just eating. Take notice of how many times you are not in the present moment throughout your day. Are you thinking about what is coming next or what has already passed? How many times have you been driving and found yourself at your destination without remembering the journey? Or have you read a page in a book only to realize that you have no idea what it said? Very often these all-consuming thoughts are of things we cannot do anything about at the moment. When you are watching your child’s little league game, it makes no sense to worry about the laundry, or other work that you need to get done, it is impossible for you to do anything about it at that moment. When it comes to eating, how often have you gobbled down your lunch (or any other food for that matter) between getting other things done and didn’t even taste it?
The real trick is to reverse this habit and start to eat mindfully. When you eat mindfully you will enjoy your food much more, and you will be better able to listen to your body for signals of hunger and satiety. Food is more than just nourishment, it is a delicious sensory experience; when we lose sight of this, not only do we miss out on the opportunity to enjoy it more but we won’t be as satisfied by it as we could be. One of my clients once told me that they looked for the food that would most “fill them up” the quickest and didn’t care about the taste – this is definitely not the way to become satisfied. Some people who mindlessly eat, even forget that they have eaten a meal and end up eating again.
How do you begin to eat mindfully? I like to guide my clients through an exercise where they spend time looking at, smelling, touching and thinking about the food in front of them. Then taking a bite, they chew slowly while really tasting and savoring the food that is in their mouths. Very often the response is something like “wow, I don’t think I’ve ever really tasted a _______ !” Of course we cannot spend hours at each meal and snack slowly savoring our food, the world we live in won’t allow it. You can try to make a habit of making the first bite of everything you eat a truly mindful one. Before you put anything in your mouth take one minute to look at, smell, and touch your food while thinking of how it came to your plate. Where was it grown or made? Who prepared it for you? When you take that first bite really examine the way it feels in your mouth as well as the flavor and all of its subtleties. I think we can each devote about 3 minutes to this kind of activity and the payback will be huge.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, there is a great book about mindless eating by Brian Wansink, PhD called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and you can also check out his website for a glimpse of all of the interesting studies regarding mindless eating his group has done. When it comes to mindful eating, I highly recommend the book Savor by Lilian Cheung, DSc, RD and Thich Nhat Hanh, and you can check out that website too. As with many things, just being aware of what you are doing can make a huge difference!