Mindfulness is the quality or the state of being aware of something. In other words, when you focus on a specific object, say your breathing, you apply mindfulness (or attention) to that object. What you are doing is creating a space of presence with your breath. You can now feel the air entering your body through your nostrils, filling your lungs, chest, and stomach. Now you are breathing mindfully instead of automatically. The same can be experienced for any other daily activity, like washing your hair or the dishes, having a conversation, or even just looking at something specific, and of course, when you are eating. Practicing mindful eating or presence while eating is something we can all learn to do and use naturally.
Mindful eating -or applying presence while you eat- happens when you put your full attention (or awareness) to the whole eating experience. And practicing it can bring numerous benefits to your health. If you have yet to practice it, you will be amazed by the positive internal changes you can develop! But before telling you how to apply more presence while you eat, let me tell you a little about my mindful eating experience because you might relate.
Like many of you, I suffered from severe eating disorders as a young woman. For a decade, I was a complete slave to my diet. Constantly worrying about portions and calories of each type of food. My mind continuously calculated where, when, and how to eat, searching for ways to “control” all the details of my eating experiences. During that time, the diet culture got me pretty hard. I was not too fond of most restaurants and was very socially awkward when eating in front of others. It was a nightmare for the people who loved me and me. I suffered greatly, causing unnecessary pain to my body and soul.
Fairly, I had to work extensively on myself to understand where this obsession was coming from. And what I realized today is how disconnected I was from myself and how I needed to control food to feel safe in my world. It was back when I transitioned from being a girl to a teenager. A time when it’s pretty common to feel unsafe in the world and very confused, so the need to control your surroundings (in that case, your diet) becomes a personal ambition. Actually, it is so common that eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females (International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 2007).
Applying mindful eating
As part of my healing, I started applying the principles of bringing more presence while you eat. I allowed myself to enjoy each bite while connecting with my body and the emotions rising. And just by applying this simple practice, I could see how my relationship with food started changing. Instead of seeing it as a diet, punishment, or something I needed to control, I started seeing it as an experience to nourish my body and soul.
Benefits of mindful eating
Some of the benefits I have personally experienced through applying presence while you eat are:
- The taste of food is much more sensitive or enhanced. Even the simplest fare can taste amazing if you focus on its flavor.
- I started enjoying simple food much more. And by simple, I mean wholesome, unprocessed ingredients (instead of “diet” and substitute products, like sugar-free maple syrup, for example).
- I became more aware of myself, my needs, and my likes and dislikes. For example, I started noticing which food didn’t give me an enjoyable sensation during and after eating it ( I noticed feelings of guilt or how my digestion felt after the meal).
- I started noticing my body signals clearly, like when I was full.
- My relationship with food overall got much healthier. I started noticing the relationship between my food and my mood while and after eating it.
- My creativity in the kitchen was enhanced because I got to pay more attention to each ingredient, color, and texture of the food I was using in a recipe.
As you can see, all these things lead me to a healthier pathway toward my relationship with food. And that made me make conscious food choices creating a more nutritious diet in an easy, natural, and flowing form. Nonetheless, it took time (and by time, I meant years).
How to apply mindful eating
If you want to learn how to apply more presence while you eat, then you can follow these 4 elements of mindful eating.
Ok, before eating, please take a moment to see the plate in front of you, the food you decided to nourish your body. Then take a moment to connect with it by paying attention to what you see: the colors, the textures, the shapes, and how they are combined. Notice if the food you are about to eat has one, two, three, or more colors and if the colors are bright or pale. If it is a juicy plate or a dry one. If it vibrates or looks dead. Spend a little time here, just watching and noticing.
Now, let’s change gears and focus your attention on how it smells. Notice how each element smells and the sensations the smell rises in your body. For example, does it make you drool more? Does it bring you satisfaction? Where do you feel that satisfaction?.
Please leave the food for a moment in your mouth, chew it, connect with it, and enjoy it. After clicking with the food’s color, textures, forms, and smell, let’s take a bite of it and consciously and with awareness notice how it tastes and how your taste buds react to it. Notice if it is salty, sweet, sour, hot, or spicy. Notice how your body reacts to each bite’s taste: does it feel relaxed or uncomfortable? Does it bring you happiness, peace, and satisfaction? How would you describe this experience?.
Now, it’s time to put presence into the feeling the food creates in you. What is the associated feeling food provides you? What is the feeling that arises when you eat that specific food? Does it makes you feel good, or does it makes you feel bad? Does it gives you pleasure, or maybe it makes you feel guilty? Take your time to notice the emotional relationship you have with the specific food you are eating.
By applying these four elements regularly, you will become more conscious of the type of food you enjoy the most, and that makes you feel better. Also, you will be aware of the quality of the diet you are choosing to eat. And ultimately, you will naturally gain more connection and confidence in yourself and your food choices. But please remember that it might take you some time. Steeping away from the diet culture developed for the last 30 years will take effort, time, and lots of mindfulness.
I made a video explaining these four elements of applying more presence. At the same time, I give a big personal challenge to take your eating experience to the next level! And that is to spend one week eating in complete silence. No talking, phone, TV, tablets, or distractions. Just you are practicing mindful eating. You will notice so many important things about yourself, your eating pattern, and your relationship with food.
Side note. For those who want to do the challenge, please comment below so I can support you. I would like to know your insights during or after this experience.
As always, I send you much love!