10 Steps to Mindful Eating

Here I am, revisiting an old post as I realised how essential mindfulness has become in our day-to-day lives. This also comes as a follow up to a recent workshop I held, which was all about mindful eating. This ancient meditation model has been changing the way people approach weight loss, their relationship with food and improving their eating behaviours.

Have you practiced mindful eating? If not, here are some steps to get your started…

#1 What is Mindfulness?

There’s more to mindful eating than just simply consuming foods slowly without any distractions.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judementally”. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

Applying this saying requires us to be fully aware of food and the process of eating, which impacts our attitudes and behaviours towards food. Mindfulness encompasses every element related to eating from food preparation, recognising physical hunger, acknowledging food preferences to eating for satisfaction and satiety.

#2 Understand the Mindful Eating Cycle

A good visual representation of the mindful eating cycle is beautifully shown in this diagram below, which has been developed by Michelle May, MD, founder of the mindful eating workshops “Am I Hungry?”:

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By asking ourselves the following questions, this cycle can help us take charge of decisions we make with regards to eating and even start identifying behaviours that need a little tweaking to achieve our goals no matter what the end game is:

  • Why do I eat? (i.e. Hunger? Stress? Visual cues?)
  • When do I want to eat? (i.e. Based on the clock? Hunger or emotions?)
  • What do I eat? (i.e. Is choice based on convenience? Taste or comfort? Nutrition?)
  • How do I eat? (i.e. Do I eat mindfully, rushed or in secret?)
  • How much do I eat? (i.e. Do I stop based on physical fullness or package or plate size?)
  • Where I invest my energy? (i.e. where does the energy go?)

These questions should be used to help us be more aware of our eating patterns without any judgement. The answers should then help us make informed choices. It may sound simple and easy but it does take a little bit of time to take up and start listening to bodily cues.

#3 Identify internal cues

A starting point would be to recognise hunger and satiety by using a scale from 0 -10 to rate your hunger and feeling of fullness. 0 = Most hungry/”Starving” and 10 = least hungry / “Stuffed or extremely full”. The goal pre-meals is to get to a point where you are “ready to eat” so think of a rating of around 4. After a meal, the goal here is to get to a point of “satisfaction”, which perhaps implies a rating of 7/8. Being at “0” can cause you to feel irritable, tired, shaky and “hangry”, which may lead to mindless eating and can also cause you to jump straight to a “10”. Being at the other end of scale, you may then feel bloated, extremely uncomfortable, tired and some may even feel guilt. Using this scale can help you reconnect with your internal hunger and satiety cues and understand your eating behaviours a little better.

#4 Engage ALL senses

Use all your senses starting with food preparation all the way to chewing. Be attentive to the texture, smell, colour and even the sound different foods make as you eat them. Also, why not try to identify all ingredients in your meal and truly savour each mouthful?

#5 Chew, chew, chew

Chew your food well and place your cutlery down between bites. Perhaps you could even start by chewing 10-15 times. Now the benefits of chewing your meal intuitively are 1) slowing down the pace of eating allowing you to be more in tune with your internal cues of fullness and 2) helps with digestion, since it all starts with chewing!

#6 Eat until satisfied

This relates to step #3 where you are more in tune with your internal cues. Stop eating when you are satisfied and not overly full. I know that this step could be difficult for many since we’ve been programmed to finish “everything on the plate”. That, however, is another topic for another time!

#7 Appreciate

An important benefit that mindful eating offers is allowing you the space to appreciate your food. Food appreciation can include a variety of things; from the effort that has gone into preparing the meal to the origins of each ingredient. Even the fact that you are able to have food on your plate can be an unrecognised thought when eating mindlessly.

# 8 Reflect on triggers of “mindless” eating

In this case, mindless eating refers to eating for other reasons than hunger. Known causes of mindless eating include “autopilot” eating or eating at a set time even if you don’t feel hungry. Distractions are another common cause of mindless eating such as eating in front of the TV. Comfort or emotional eating due to feelings of stress or anxiety as well as feelings of boredom are all known culprits. To identify mindless eating behaviours, keep a food and mood diary for a week in order to recognise a pattern. You can then look at strategies to break the habit of mindless eating where a dietitian or intuitive eating coach can help you break that habit.

#9 Practice and Repeat

We all know that the key to change is consistency and repetition. In order for mindfulness to come naturally, you need to practice and apply these steps gradually and consistently. You can start with one meal a day such as at lunch or dinner then apply mindfulness to the rest of your meals and snacks.

#10 Reconnect

By now, you probably realise that one important purpose of starting to eat more mindfully is to reconnect with our internal body cues. I do believe that we have become disconnected with food and our eating habits  and have become focused on factors that have simply bought us feelings of guilt, frustration, confusion and misinformation.

So if we had to revisit the definition of mindfulness used by J.K.Z – Pay attention to how, what and why you eat, without judgement, being in the moment without any distractions.



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