How mindful eating changed my relationship with food

I’ve always had an unhealthy relationship with food, either eating too little during the day or overindulging with every meal. After gaining quite a bit of weight, I decided I needed to change my eating habits.

While on a quest to help myself make better food choices I came across a paper on cambridge.org about the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviour. The paper found that “mindfulness and mindful eating interventions appear to be most successful in the reduction of binge eating… [it] also reduced emotional eating and eating in response to external cues.” I was intrigued and wanted to find out whether mindful eating would be able to help me take control of my eating habits.

As if it was fate, I found a 10-day mindful eating meditation series on one of my favourite meditation apps, Headspace. The goal of this meditation series is to train your mind in awareness and to change your relationship with food by using a technique called noting.

I used the app’s seven-day mindful eating plan outline to direct my week of mindful eating and here’s how it went:

Day 1: Jot down your plan

At the start of the week, I made a list of all the ingredients I have at home. This is something I usually do so it was fairly easy. The only time it got a little bit tricky was while I was traveling for work. Most of the time what I ate was beyond my control but the days I did go to the shops to buy food I tried to be more mindful of what I was buying.

Day 2: Pause and reflect

Checking in with my body wasn’t something I was used to. I just ate whenever I felt like it. I never focussed on why I was eating which meant I usually ate because I was bored or just because there was food around.

Throughout the week, I tried to reflect both physically and mentally before choosing to eat. If I wasn’t feeling hungry I didn’t eat. If I felt a little bit peckish, I ate something small instead of a big meal. Deciding to eat something or not to was quite empowering. I felt proud for saying ‘no’ to delicious food I would usually eat, just because it was there.

Day 3: Have a seat

I am guilty of watching television while I eat. I must admit this is a habit that is still hard to shake. However, during the week I was travelling I didn’t have a TV so I ate sitting at a table most of the time. Eating without distraction is difficult if you’re not alone though, as people can be pretty chatty when sitting down to a meal. Whenever possible, I tried to focus on the food I was eating, appreciating every bite. However, I don’t think I have got the hang of this one yet, but I’ll keep practicing!

Day 4: Handy reminders

Setting reminders is a great way to remember to eat mindfully. I set reminders on my phone to pop up every 3 – 4 hours. I definitely needed the reminders around dinner time, because I tend to scoff my dinner down hastily after a long and busy day at work. I usually forget to eat during the day and then get home ravenously hungry. Setting a reminder around the time I usually eat dinner, helped me to focus on eating mindfully. I also wrote down each of the tips of the previous days to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

Day 5: Engage your senses

The tip for day five was a little awkward. Closing my eyes while taking my first bite made me feel like I was acting in a commercial, not to mention the people I was eating with thought I was a little bit cuckoo. But I tried to savour and appreciate the scents, flavours, and textures of what I was eating. While taking my first bite I tried to guess all the herbs and spices used to make the dish, although I quickly realised my palate isn’t nearly as sophisticated as I had hoped. Another thing I enjoyed was thinking about why I was enjoying the food I was eating. It wasn’t because I was ravenous, it was because I appreciated the hands that made the food, how it tasted and the way it made me feel. I also stopped eating once I felt satisfied instead of eating until I felt full.

Day 6: Be kind to yourself

This was a big change for me as I usually get very upset with myself when I overeat or succumb to my junk food cravings. But the app helps you to focus on being kind to yourself when you have a weak moment and don’t eat mindfully. It helps you to refocus and reminds you that there are other meals you’ll have to be mindful of. Food isn’t good or bad, it’s just food. When you give food a moral value and have negative emotions connected to food you’re more likely to overeat. Being kinder to myself about how and what I eat helped me to be more conscious in the end. I started to think more positively about food which made me feel more confident about my food choices.

Day 7: Keep practicing

The last day was about reminding yourself that mindful eating is a journey. Teaching yourself something new and letting go of the habits you’ve formed takes time and practice. The more you practice the easier it becomes. By consistently practicing what I learned throughout the 7-day meditation, these will eventually become healthy habits.

Mindful eating is a practice that has changed the way I think about food. It has given me a sense of confidence about my recent food choices and taught me to not be so hard on myself when I do indulge from time-to-time.

Would you give mindful eating a try? Let us know in the comments below.

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