Menu

Stop Devouring Food and Start Enjoying It: 5 Tips for Mindful Eating

Beautiful Drink

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s Sunday night. A steaming plate of spaghetti is set in front of me. Salivating with wide eyes I grab my fork and prepare to dive in. We know how this will end. I will say to my husband while patting my tummy and undoing my top button, “Tomorrow we will start our healthy eating plans.”

This scene raises a number of questions:

Why can't I resist the urge to inhale my meal like an out of control Scooby Doo bingeing on Scooby snacks? Even when my body is screaming “Enough—you’re killing me,” I will still reach for another donut.

Secondly, when did we become so unconscious that my Mandarin buffet gorge from the night before is a mere fog like hangover?

We are just plain food obsessed.

You don't have to look far to prove this obsession. Walk down any fast food-lined street in any North American town and observe the unprecedented obesity.

Look to our health crisis. Not only are millions of Americans suffering from eating disorders, but the hospital hallways are lined with people with heart disease, cancer, and an epidemic influx of diabetes.

Look to our media. I shudder every time I hear someone say they love the show “Man versus Food.” Have you ever been to a factory farm? In order to feed our gluttonous ways, factory farms are piling millions more animals into production spaces, causing harm to animals, the environment, and humans.

In short, we have a lot of sick people and a lot of animals suffering.

Why is something we deem so pleasurable causing so much harm? We could debate many arguments as to why we have developed unhealthy food relationships, reasons such as two working families, fast food biggie sizes, lack of exercise, technology, and inexpensive junk food.

But at the root of the problem is that in our fast paced society we have forgotten how to slow down and eat mindfully.

When we regain consciousness and reconnect to Mother Earth the ugly side effects of our food obsession inevitably dissipate.

My very wise Buddhist teacher recently gave us a challenging assignment. The intention was to discover that everyday mundane tasks, such as eating or washing the dishes don't have to be mundane at all. Our first challenge: Practice mindful eating. The results must surprise you.

5 Steps to Mindful Eating

1. Examine your emotions.

It’s nearing bedtime; the house is quiet and dark, my agitated mind illuminated by the dim fridge light. What am I feeling? Boredom, anxiety, anger, sadness? Am I really hungry? After all, I did have dinner a mere three hours ago?

The truth is, my husband and I had an argument, I'm in need of comfort and my mind is fixated on the chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the freezer. But after three months of nightly indulgence and two inches added to my waistline I've only compounded my frustrations, not abolished them.

This is a perfect example of eating by emotion. Looking at your mind from above it makes it easer to recognize unhealthy eating patterns and make changes. Before you steal from the cookie jar always ask yourself, does my body need nourishment or am I feeding my emotions?

2. Find a food you love and set the stage for success.

A natural, colourful fruit is always a good first choice; an apple was my first. Now turn off all media, put your iPhone away, and no talking. It might be hard at first to bottle your urges for idle chatter, but be still, breathe deeply, and fight against it. Start with ten minutes.

3. Express gratitude.

Resist the urge to bite into your apple. Take a moment to consider all the kindness that went into growing this apple. This may at first sound absurd but this practice develops your own loving kindness and gratitude.

Think about the mother who raised the farmer who planted the apple tree. Think about the miraculous ecosystem. Consider the apple pickers, the supermarket workers. Honestly, we could go on forever and what you would ultimately discover is that the kindness of the entire universe is in this apple.

Now that's some food for thought, but don't worry if you’re not there yet. Maybe just start by expressing gratitude that you are able to eat in peace and comfort. Say a silent thanks.

I've noticed that expressing gratitude centers me in the present moment, negative emotions dissipate, and it reminds me not to take things for granted.

4. Savor the flavor.

While this may seem like an eternity with your bowl of sweet raspberries on the counter taunting you, but in reality it’s only a mere minute or two; still, if you can, hold off long enough to closely observe your food. Feel the coolness of the apple, examine the deep red color, smell the sweetness. Allow your senses to explode.

Okay, now we're ready. Slowly take a juicy bite, roll the apple in your mouth, savor the sourness, play with the texture, and notice the intensity. Before you take another bite, chew slowly and completely before swallowing. Eat the entire apple this way: slowly, silently, mindfully.

Unbeknownst to my co-workers the mundane mid-day apple break in my cubicle has suddenly turned into a powerful experience. After practicing mindful eating I’m also fascinated to realize that I don’t even enjoy the tasteless, processed morning granola bar that I scarf down in the car.

Mindful eating naturally results in a love of healthy foods. It’s inevitable.

5. Build the mindful eating habit.

We live in a busy world and there will always be days when we need to wolf down a slice of pizza on our lunch break, but consider practicing this technique once a week, and then once a day. Eventually, it will just become habit. You'll become be present.

However you should beware there are side effects of mindful eating, the fine print reads:

You may develop a love of natural foods, feelings of satisfaction, a sudden desire to be active, an ability to recognize your body's nourishment needs, weight loss, mood control, more energy, glowing skin, disease prevention, control over your emotions, living in the present moment, and quieting the mind.

Imagine the change we could invoke throughout world if everyone practiced mindful eating. It’s not too late to teach our children new habits. The positive transformation to our health care system, our own and our children’s health and wellness, and the entire animal kingdom is exciting and within grasp.

We don’t have to be food obsessed. Let’s break the cycle. Doesn't it make you want to go grab a fuzzy peach and give it a try? Go on. I'm about to enjoy an intense blueberry experience myself.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

About Tina Williamson

Tina is a student of Buddhism, meditation and yoga.  She writes about cultivating happiness through mindfulness at her own blog:  Barefoot Beginnings (www.barefootbeginnings.net).  Tina lives near cottage country in Ontario, Canada with her husband and two dogs.  Also a vegetarian and animal lover she enjoys photography, travel and nature.  But mostly she’s just a free spirit trying to follow the path.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • Hi Tina,

    Good tips. Savoring the flavor reigns. I do it when I feel myself hurrying through a dish. Slow down. Taste the food. Really taste it, by slowing down your chewing, and feeling the taste bud sensation.

    Unreal experience, quite blissful when you are present to tasting. Also, you will get rid of conditions like indigestion and heartburn by mindfully eating.

    Great read, thanks,

    Ryan

  • Thanks Ryan!
    It is quite a shock when we start to really taste our food. It also helps to control our portion sizes, we often eat so unconsciously we don’t even realize that we aren’t hungry anymore!

  • Jeffrey Willius

    Great post, Tina! As the son of a restaurateur, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a family that appreciates food. And as a writer about life, Nature and all their small wonders, I grieve for those who seem too busy to really look, feel and taste.
    By the way, I find that all those nuances of taste you describe for the apple exist only about four months of the year. The rest of the year, alas, most apples are quite worthy of being eaten mindlessly.

  • Savour the flavour – YES! I’m a notoriously fast eater, like eating is something to get through so I can get back to what I was doing. YIKES – shocking but true. My husband always reminds me to savour the flavour – how striking the flavours are that nature creates in fruits, veges, all these incredible things we are gifted. Your blog reminds me that presence isn’t just about mindfulness in our work, or in meditation or yoga, but again about presence in the simple things in life where most joy can be experienced – a meal with family, savouring a sweet piece of fruit, being grateful for the refreshing and cleansing water we get to drink… all little gifts we get each day and not to be taken for granted! B 🙂

  • Amber

    So people know that emotional eating isn’t good and doesn’t really do any good in the long run. fine. Ok. I get the logic. but where does anyone tell us how to soothe our emotions without eating? eating’s really about the only quick fix for hurt these days… Self soothing takes time… meanwhile I’m in pain and need comfort food…. where’s the solution to that?

  • Satish

    Nice post. I am from India and I am a pure vegetarian. In my religion (or the sub-sect of the religion), the food is traditionally cooked by either mother or grand mother after taking a bath. This ensures the sacredness of the food. While the food is being cooked, it will not be tasted at all. So they will be very careful, actually accustomed a lot, to prepare the food with right amount of salt etc. So after the food is prepared, it is offered to God. It normal days this offering is just a 2 minute ritual, but in big festivals, the prayer/ritual is much more and it takes a lot of time before offering the food to God. Only after this the food becomes available to eat. My religion says that food is also God, so you can imagine the respect we give to food.

    From my childhood I have been observing and this discipline is so ingrained in our minds that we never feel hungry till the food is offered to God. As I said in some festivals, there is a lengthy ritual for God going till afternoon 2 PM or so, but till then we never asked for any food (small children and toddlers are given some food anyway like milk and some dishes prepared separately).

    Most of the times, entire family sits, on the floor and eat together (don’t laugh… but in India lot of people sit on the floor, not on the dining tables). In some villages, they eat in the freshly cut banana leaves (what a nice taste and very eco-friendly 🙂 )

    OK… after my long (or short) explanation all I wanted to say is the sense of sacredness that is being attributed to the food. This ensures that we don’t waste any food and a strict discipline is followed in what we eat and when we eat. As it is rightly said “we are what we eat”.

    Missing all this after coming to USA… but still following some of the traditions.

  • Olivia

    I loved this article. My relationship with food isn’t a good one. I’m going to put these suggestions to practice! Thank you.

  • Towlie

    Enjoyed reading that, have a nice day and don’t forget to bring a towel!

  • Silvia

    Sometimes when we are in pain, the best way through it is to sit with it and feel it, not to try to avoid it or push it away through distractions like food or television. Try being with your pain, you might be surprised at how this makes you feel. Instead of looking for ways to soothe uncomfortable emotions, try embracing them. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but sometimes the most discomfort comes from running away from reality. All that really exists in the present moment is just me, my thoughts and body sensations. Emotions of pain and sadness show up this way, and are dissipated through turning inward. When I run away from them and try to ignore them, they settle under the surface or change shape, but they continue to exist. When I stop struggling, when I show my pain compassion, when I sit with it, it leaves the body as naturally as the breath.

  • Lisa

    This is a wonderful description, Satish, what a reverential attitude to food. It makes me want to go an visit India again!

  • Lisa

    I really enjoyed this, thanks, Tina. I try and practise mindful eating as often as I can and it makes such a difference when I do. I have to agree with Amber, though, re the emotional eating – sometimes I’m not strong enough to stay with really difficult emotions and at those times chocolate or icecream give me the good feelings I want – I know they’re short-term and don’t cancel the negative emotions but sometimes the distraction is all I can handle. Anyway, off to eat my veg curry and rice… mindfully!

  • Thanks Jeffrey, you have been very lucky. I was not brought up appreciating food or thinking this way, and now that I have changed my perspective I feel very fortunate and grateful.
    And about the apples 🙂 that’s funny, I’ll have to pay more attention haha!

  • Hi Bernadette, I am also a notoriously fast eater, I’m also a fast talker and walker 😉 I need the constant reminder to practice, I’m in hopes that one day it will be a natural habit, just like breathing. I really like that you pointed out that mindfulness isn’t just about being mindful during your one hour yoga class or in meditation, but without being mindful in the everyday moments then we are essentially missing all those moment, which really are the moments that make up your life. Thanks for the insightful comment!
    Tina

  • Hi Amber, Just like Silvia said above when you bury the emotion or mask it with distraction the emotion is still there, and it is still causing you pain and manifesting into your life in destructive ways. I think that Silvia has hit it right when she says to stop running away from the emotion, sometimes we just need to acknowledge our feelings, and let them be, rest in those feelings in the present moment. We can also use the technique of paying attention to those thoughts in silence, when you feel the urge to run to the cookie jar, instead try to sit silently and simply pay attention to the thoughts, watch as they jump around, evolve, change and eventually disappear.

  • Hi Satish:
    This is a beautiful tradition, thanks so much for sharing! I love eating on the floor 😉 We can see that our culture is taking for granted how lucky we are to have food on our plates. I would be so nice if we could adopt some traditions to put some perspective on the importance of being grateful.

  • Your welcome Olivia! I hope it helps you win the battle. One thing I know from experience is just keep reminding yourself over and over. If you forget about it, even for a couple weeks, don’t beat yourself up, just come back to the practice. Eventually it will become more routine. 🙂

  • Thanks Lisa, the emotional eating is tough, I think that the most important word here is try, if your mind veers off the path, don’t beat yourself up, don’t feel guilty, accept the situation and just try again!

  • Tamara Epps

    Brilliant post. I’ve known about eating my emotions but haven’t been able to kick the habit. Have never thought of mindful eating and am looking forward to really appreciating my food, thanks for sharing.