I have a confession to make. I don't have a problem with eating.
I don't over eat, I don't under eat, I don't diet. I don't eat to manage emotions, my weight or anything other than my hunger.
I don't obsess about nutrition and I don't beat myself up about what I eat. The conversations I have with myself about food extend to, 'I feel like a toasted sandwich. I will eat a toasted sandwich. That toasted sandwich was good.'
As I've got older I've discovered that this is not normal, especially for a woman. I am not a normal woman.
Why? I don't know.
Genetics? Role modelling in my childhood? Some complex interaction of personality traits? 'Why' is not the important point here.
A couple of years ago I read about 'mindful eating' - the idea that we can and should pay attention to our eating habits and the signals our bodies give us about what we need and when. Bingo! I'm an inadvertent mindful eater.
Or I was.
I'm now a very conscious mindful eater. A mindful mindful eater.
Are you paying attention?
Mindfulness is "the practice of paying attention: knowing where our attention is and being able to choose where to direct it" - Dr Stephen McKenzie & Dr Craig Hassed, 'Mindfulness for Life'
Sounds simple but are we paying attention when we're eating?
Are we paying attention when we cram that piece of toast into our mouths while driving the kids to school? Are we paying attention when we add a muffin to our morning coffee order? Are we paying attention when we stand in front of the fridge absently trawling for a snack in the afternoon? Are we paying attention when we eat ice cream after dinner while scrolling through our phones?
I've done all of these things (still do sometimes) and I know I'm not paying attention when I'm doing it. I know that I'm responding to
- rules I've set myself (must eat before I leave the house)
- habits (that added muffin when the coffee would be enough to satiate)
- boredom and frustration (can't concentrate, maybe I'll eat instead?)
- emotional rewards (woo hoo, kids are in bed, I deserve a treat for the day I've had.)
There's nothing wrong with any of the above, but I know that if I'm eating like this I'm eating more than I need to, I'm eating in place of other useful activities (get outside, hang the washing out, get back to work) - and I'm eating for the wrong reasons (Did you know that stress inhibits digestion?)
How do you eat with your mind?
Mindful eating is:
- Paying attention to our body and its feelings and asking the question, 'Am I hungry right now?' 'Do I need to eat? Am I fulfilling some other need? Or just acting on habit?' If I need to eat, what does my body need and why?
My body likes to tell me that it needs ALL the food - especially the fatty, sugary food - when I'm cold or I'm tired. I can pay attention to it, but I don't need to do what it says. I ask myself, 'Am I hungry? If not I turn my attention elsewhere.
- Paying attention to the experience of eating. Eating slowly, with minimal distractions, and noticing the colours, smells, flavours and textures of food has been shown to reduce the amount we eat and some guilty feelings about eating. It may have some weight loss benefits too.
- Paying attention to what we tell ourselves about eating. Our 'self talk' can get pretty worked up about our eating behaviour. We tend to have lots of rules, 'shoulds' and 'should nots' about what we eat, when and why. Listen to the voice in your head. Is it critical? Negative? Unhelpful? What is it telling you about eating?
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, without judgement. No critical self talk here. Acknowledge the thought, take a breath and let it go. Your emotions and digestive system will thank you for it.
Tell me, what's one thing you know about your eating habits? And do you think you could eat more mindfully?