Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner

You look down at your plate and your food is gone, but you can’t remember eating. Sound familiar? This experience is called mindless eating, and it’s become a common practice in our fast-paced culture.
Mindless eating can lead to significant physical and psychological issues. The antidote to mindless eating is mindful eating.

The Center for Mindful Eating, a U.S-based nonprofit, defines mindful eating as having four parts: 1) Using your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying and nourishing to your body. 2) Acknowledging your responses to food without judgment. 3) Becoming aware of physical hunger to guide your decisions to begin and end eating. 4) Becoming aware of positive and nurturing opportunities related to food selection and preparation.

Here are a few tips if you’d like to try practicing mindful eating.

1) Focus on your senses. Use all five senses to be present in the moment while you’re eating. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What does my food look like? What are its shapes and colors?
  • What does my food smell like? Does it have multiple aromas?
  • What does my food sound like as it’s being eaten?
  • What texture does my food have outside and inside of my mouth? What temperature is my food?
  • What does my food taste like? Can I identify multiple flavors, such as sweet, salty, bitter, savory, or sour?

2) Pause between bites. Try putting down your fork or spoon between bites, as this movement can help you to remember to slow down and focus on your senses. The same goes for sandwiches or other handheld foods. You can also take a few deep breaths between bites.

3) Use your less dominant hand. If you’re right-handed, try eating with your left hand or vice versa. This will help you to slow down and also be more attentive to your movements, which nurtures mindfulness.

4) Avoid distractions. It can often be productive and enjoyable to eat while engaged in other activities, such as watching TV, driving, completing work tasks, or using your phone. Yet these tasks make it impossible to engage in mindful eating. Try focusing on eating without participating in any other activity. Or go ahead and do something else too, but not simultaneously. For example, let’s say you’re at work and you need to use your lunch break to respond to emails, but you also need to eat. You can respond to one email and then stop to focus on taking a bite or two of food. Do not turn right back to another email, but instead take a moment to truly focus on the act of eating. Then, after you’ve chewed and swallowed, respond to another email and repeat the process.

5) Notice your experiences without judgment. Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations while eating and accept what you experience. When your mind gets distracted—and it will—simply notice it without judgment and bring your mind back to the act of eating. This practice will create an awareness of your experiences while eating that will serve you well. Being more aware of your body, for example, will help you to know when you’re full and it’s time to stop eating.

Try incorporating these methods to practice mindful eating each day, which can improve both your physical and your psychological health.

Do you struggle with your eating? Symmetry Counseling’s Wynn Coughlin is leading a therapy group on Understanding and Disrupting the Binge Eating Cycle this summer, July 10, July 24, and August 7, 2018, from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. This three-part series will cover the emotional and psychological dynamics that contribute to patterns of compulsive overeating and explore ways to cultivate a more consistently balanced relationship with food. For more information, please email Wynn at wcoughlin@symmetrycounseling.com.

The Center for Mindful Eating (2013). The principals of mindful eating. [Website] Retrieved from https://thecenterformindfuleating.org/Principles-Mindful-Eating