In principle, mindfulness can be applied to all aspects of life. Mindful living is living with constant attention in the now. Today we are going to look at how you can apply mindfulness to your eating habits.
The term “mindfulness” was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a certain way, being in the present moment, and being non-judgmental.” Kabat-Zinn was the original developer and leader of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He wrote the book Full Catastrophe Living in 1990 to give the public advice on mindful living based on his experiences with this program since 1979.
What is mindful eating?
The fact is that a diet without behavioral change is pointless. Although we spend a lot of time studying diets to determine which ones are most effective, we always come to the same conclusion: Diets are all effective in the short term and no diet is effective in the long term. So, you have to change your relationship with food if you really want to achieve certain results (weight loss or blood pressure reduction, for example). Changing your eating habits is difficult for everyone. We humans are very attached to our habits. If you eat a certain way for 50 years, you don’t really want to change your behavior anymore.
But here it comes: Mindfulness can help improve your eating behavior in an unobtrusive way. As a result, you will achieve your desired results in the long term.
Mindful eating, in short, is paying conscious attention to your food, moment by moment, and without judgment. This approach focuses on a person’s awareness of and experience with food. Mindful eating has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fats, or sugar. The point of mindful eating is to focus on the moment and on the food.
The raisin exercise
How do you actually start to eat mindfully? Kabat-Zinn’s so-called raisin exercise can help with this. Are you ready for it? Then grab a raisin and read the instructions below. The exercise goes as follows:
Hold: First take a raisin and hold it.
Look: Take the time to really focus on it; look at the raisin with full attention. Kabat-Zinn suggested that you imagine yourself as a Martian who has just arrived on Earth and has never seen an object like this before. Let your eyes explore each part of the raisin and examine the light reflections, the dark voids, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or other unique features. There is a lot to see if you look that way!
Touch: Flip the raisin between your fingers and explore the texture. You can do this with your eyes closed so that your sense of touch is sharper.
Smell: Hold the raisin under your nose. Take in the aroma of the raisin with each inhalation. As you do this, you may notice that something is happening in your mouth or stomach.
Put in your mouth: Gently place the raisin in your mouth; but without chewing. Focus on the sensations of having the raisin in your mouth and explore it with your tongue.
Taste: Start chewing very slowly. Experience the taste. Without swallowing yet, notice the sheer taste and texture sensations in your mouth and how they can change over time, moment to moment.
Swallow: When you are ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can detect the intention to swallow as it arises so that you even experience this consciously before actually swallowing the raisin.
You’re not done yet: Finally, see if you can feel the raisin going down your stomach, and feel how your body as a whole feels after you complete this exercise.
This exercise serves as a manual for mindful eating. Of course, it will take a very long time if every bite we take is experienced in this way. But doing this exercise a few times a week can help you become more aware of eating. But also, of yourself in the here and now.
And in everyday life, you can apply the main principles of mindful eating: slow down and focus. You can do that even when you’re busy.
Making time to eat and giving yourself the space to do so is crucial. Not only for your consciousness, but also for your health. On average, we have to chew our food about 30 times before swallowing it. This chewing effort and chewing time is necessary to give the enzymes in our saliva time to break down food.
If you eat slowly, you will also become saturated faster. This means that you are automatically satisfied with less food and therefore do not overeat. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to register that the stomach is full. Set a timer for 20 minutes while eating and see for yourself if it’s right.
Do you have trouble slowing down? Then you can try eating with chopsticks. Another tip is to take a sip of water after every bite you take or put down your cutlery and then pick it up again only after you have chewed (30 times) and swallowed .
Whenever possible, eat your meal at the dining table (and not in your car, on the couch in front of the TV or in front of a screen). Turn off all distractions. The only thing you can’t turn off are your table partners, of course. But if everyone eats mindfully at the table, then you automatically have no or at least less conversation. During mindful retreats it is often the rule NOT to speak while eating.
So, try to focus solely on your food. How it looks, how it smells, how it tastes, and how it nourishes your body. Remember the raisin exercise. By fully focusing on your meal, you will listen more closely to your hunger and satiety cues. And that will allow you to optimize your eating behavior.