An exercise in mindfulness training, a Buddhist meditation practice, is to put a raisin in your mouth and see how long you can keep it there while paying attention to its taste and texture. Mindfulness is the technique of bringing all of our awareness to the here and now, to the sensations in our bodies and our breathing, for example, rather than letting much of it slip away in contemplation of the past and future or of other subjects that are not real. The assumption is that when we act with full awareness, our actions are more likely to achieve what we intend, and that when we feel with full awareness, we are more likely to feel fulfilled.
Many people perform the act of eating semiconsciously, swallowing food without really tasting it or focusing their attention on the next bite before they have enjoyed the present one. Others talk, read, or watch television while eating, directing their attention incompletely to their food. One consequence of unmindful eating is overeating. Who has not mindlessly shoveled in quantities of popcorn or chips while watching a movie or staring at a television screen? Another consequence of unmindful eating is failure to get full sensory pleasure from food.
If food is really good, conversation at the table is reduced to a minimum, and people concentrate on the enjoyment of the moment. Then they are likely to eat less and enjoy it more.
We eat automatically out of habit. To break the habit requires motivation and practice. Try the raisin exercise to see how long you can go without chewing it up or swallowing it. When food is served to you, take a moment to fully appreciate its appearance and aroma before starting to eat. When you first taste it, try to give it your full attention. Eating mindfully heightens the pleasure of the experience.
Here’s some strategies that may assist in combating emotional eating styles and filling personal voids.
1. Pay attention to your senses as you are eating. Take note of your mental and emotional state. What are you feeling and thinking? Are you filled with joy, self-pity, anger? Look for habits and self-abuse attitudes.
2. Before eating, take a moment to reflect on whether you are truly hungry, or eating to fill some other need. Are you experiencing physical hunger cues or responding to head/heart hunger. If you are tired, angry, bored, or frustrated, consider what action would allow you greater comfort than eating.
3. Avoid labeling yourself as good or bad depending on your weight or food choices on any given day. By letting go of such judgements, you decrease the importance of any one food experience.
4. Taste your food. Find pleasure and nourishment in the taste, color, texture, and nutritious value of your food, rather than in the quantity. Focus on the food and visualize it nourishing you physically and emotionally due to the healthy nutrients you’re giving to your body.
Eating is an activity that we easily take for granted. We can develop many eating styles that permit eating to be anything but a joyful, peaceful experience. Bringing more attention and thought to our meals may help us to make healthier food choices, and experience the joy of our food.
Whether your issue is eating too much or too little, the challenge is the same. Awareness must be present to check inside and find out what is going on. To develop a eating style that works for you, you have to wake up. When you sit down to eat, just eat. Sit down at a designated place (perhaps the dinner table) and resist your usual routine of reading email, watching television, or doing work.
Questions to ask yourself to become aware of your eating:
*Am I hungry?
*Will food satisfy my hunger?
*Do I choose to eat?
*Do I want the food that is in front of me?
*What am I thinking while I am eating?
*Do these food choices support my greater health and happiness?
Become aware of your eating rather than check out, zone out or numb yourself by abusing food and making poor food choices. Many times when you raise your awareness, it makes a huge difference.
The fulfillment and sense of “full” lies inside of you and is within your power; not in the unhealthy, poor food choices you could make.