Eating mindfully is one of the best ways we can build healthy eating habits. When we tune into eating as a practice, we can build our ability to make healthy choices in when we eat, how much we eat, and what we choose to ingest. This is a struggle for many of us, and cultivating a practice of mindful eating can really help us tune into the experience and our habits around it. Here are a few tips to try practicing mindful eating in your life!
1. Slow Down
This is perhaps the simplest way we can encourage a more mindful relationship to eating. Elizabeth from One Mind Dharma discusses this as a practice in caring for ourselves in her post Eight Ways to Cultivate Metta. There are a few benefits to slowing down while eating. According to a study of over 1,700 Japanese men and women, eating slowly gives us the feeling of being full with less food. Furthermore, we give ourselves the opportunity to truly taste our food. How many times have you eaten a sweet, pastry, or favorite food without really enjoying it? Before you know it, it’s gone!
In Thich Nhat Hanh’s guide to mindful eating, it’s suggested to chew the food 30 times before swallowing. Although this may be a bit much to start with, it is good to keep the intention in mind. Rather than quickly swallowing your food, try really chewing it bringing your awareness to the experience of eating. Enjoy (or not!) the taste and texture. Making the effort to chew your food a few extra times before moving on can make a dramatic difference in how mindfully we eat.
2. Are You Hungry?
If you tune into your hunger, you’ll notice that there’s a difference between physical hunger and mental hunger. Sometimes we truly are hungry and need to eat. As we practice mindfulness of the body, we can begin to know when our bodies are trying to tell us something. We don’t need to wait until our stomaches are rumbling to eat, but we can check in and see if we’re actually hungry. Personally, I usually eat a very small breakfast. I know the saying that it’s the “most important meal of the day,” but I don’t find myself hungry in the morning. Although this may not be the exact case for you, we can all investigate what feels right to us and what our bodies need.
On the other hand, we all eat from time to time out of “mental hunger.” That is, we become bored, angry, anxious, sad, etc. and cope with food. Maybe we don’t have a full-fledged eating disorder, but we all still eat due to reasons other than actual physical hunger. For me, this is especially applicable to snacking. When I go to grab a snack, I try to ask myself the question, “Am I actually hungry right now?” Sometimes I simply note to myself that I’m just bored.
3. Cook Mindfully
Cooking is one of the best things we can do to practice mindful eating. When I began trying to eat healthier a few years ago, this is a practice I took up right away. It also helped me save money, but it really helped me connect with my food and the process of eating. I’ve found that when I cook, I connect with what I’m eating much more deeply. It builds appreciation for the act of eating, and can help us make healthier choices. When we see what goes into our food both in terms of ingredients and effort, we begin to make healthier choices.
4. Reflect Before Eating
This is another practice that I learned from sitting at Deer Park Monastery, Thich Nhat Hanh’s community in San Diego County. Before you eat, take a moment to reflect on the food. Recognize all of the energy that went into bringing this food to your table. The plants were grown with water, sun, soil, and human care. Somebody harvested it, it was brought to a store or farmer’s market, and then sold to you. There are countless individuals that played roles in getting this food to your table, and the energy that went into creating the food from the planet is immense.
When we pause before eating to reflect on our food, we can again connect deeply with what we’re eating. We see the interdependence of food, how it is inter-related with so many people and phenomena. Reflecting like this before eating helps us to appreciate the food. If we’re eating unhealthy meals repeatedly, this reflection can be a real wake-up call.
5. The One Bowl Method
This is a method I learned from the book One Bowl: A Guide to Eating for Body and Spirit. The practice is essentially to eat your meals from one bowl. This is of course oversimplifying the practice, and I highly recommend reading the book. When I tried this practice for myself, I found it to be a wonderful practice in mindful eating. Eating out of one bowl helps manage portions clearly.
I chose one single bowl to use, one that I liked a lot (and probably had some attachment to). That bowl became like a friend to me. Because I was nourishing my mind and body every meal with the same bowl, it became like a friend to me. In addition, it’s a practice that helps us build some structure around our eating, furthering encourage mindfulness while eating.
Just as a bonus, I super recommend the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung.