What if successful weight loss had nothing to do with counting calories or cutting carbs? What if all you had to do was pay complete attention to your food while you’re eating?
Mindfulness. It’s nothing new, in fact it’s been in Buddhist culture for centuries, but it’s the buzzword on everyone’s lips right now.
Understanding the basic concept of mindfulness, being present and in the moment, it’s easy to see why it’s gained popularity in the west as a way to manage our day to day stresses and become more grounded to appreciate daily life a little more.
I like to think I’m moderately mindful. Sometimes. I practice meditation and yoga, though neither as much as I would like to. But when it comes to eating, I wasn’t quite sure I had it down. Now I know about the benefits of mindful eating, it’s something I have written frequently and included in goEvo app. This act of eating super consciously and slowly, and paying attention to your food has a number of benefits.
1. It prevents us from overeating by allowing us to slow down and pay attention to the signals and feelings of fullness.
2. It helps us be more conscious about the types of foods we are eating. The idea is that if we pay close attention to the food we are eating and how it makes us feel, both physically and emotionally; then we become more aware of the affects that different foods have on our body, what makes us feel good and what makes us feel less good. So hopefully you’ll start to eat foods that are better at nourishing your body.
3. It makes meals more enjoyable by allowing us to really savor the food and focus on flavor and texture.
Like everyone I know, I’ve got a hectic lifestyle! I’ve got two kids and I work full time from home. There’s always 101 things to do and like most women I know, I find myself multi-tasking through life!
Meal times are no exception. I really enjoy cooking nourishing, healthy meals. And I enjoy eating them too! I also enjoy cooking nourishing and healthy food for my kids, though sometimes (probably often) it’s a battle to get them to eat it. Which leads me on to the next point. I frequently find that I cook a nice meal but don’t get to enjoy it. I’m so distracted by everything else that’s going on, including bribing and threatening the kids to eat their veggies, that I barely get a chance to enjoy eating.
So this week I set myself the challenge to eat all of my meals mindfully, to see if I noticed any change in my eating, and also to have the opportunity to enjoy eating a meal!
Sunday Afternoon prep
Feeling excited about the week ahead and wanted to get the rest of the family on board, I decide to get everyone involved with a traditional exercise in mindful eating involving raisins! This is a great introduction for anyone trying to be more mindful and I highly recommend giving it a go. You can read about the raisin meditation at the Greater Good in Action website here.
So I did this exercise with the kids. Naturally, they found it completely hilarious and giggled their way through it! But they did do the exercise and were really receptive to it. It was great fun and I’m hoping to get them using the exercise at meal times too! Kids are very mindful creatures anyway. Whatever they’re doing they’re fully engrossed in it. But getting them to slow down and think about their food, and not to jump up and down from the table every few minutes… well that’s where the challenge lies!
Oatmeal today made by my husband. I sit down and start rushing through it in typical Monday morning style until I remember my challenge. I slow down, smell the oatmeal, notice the steam rising from the bowl and how it feels as it warms my neck. I think about where the oats came from, I think about them growing in fields, I imagine them being harvested, then processed. I think about how they have been cooked – the milk and water and honey. I think about these things until my daughter asks me a question, and suddenly the moment is broken and whilst answering her, I take a mouthful of oatmeal. Sigh.
Immediately realizing my error, I take a small mouthful and taste it, savor it and let it sit on my tongue. I think about the flavors, the texture, the weight of it on my tongue. Meanwhile, my son’s climbed down from the table and has emptied his Lego on the floor (no time for that in the morning!) and in the distraction, I swallow the mouthful. Gah!
We’re running out of time to get teeth cleaned, hair brushed, shoes on etc. So I quickly eat a few more spoonfus and it’s all systems go for school run.
Mindful meal factor: 1/5
This is going to be easier, my kids are at school, I work from home. Zero distractions! Today I’m having a delicious salad with walnuts, feta cheese, seeds, tomatoes and olive oil. Really nourishing healthy food albeit a little bit boring. I manage to eat this meal mindfully throughout and I realize how much more enjoyable this salad is than usual! Great, extra points for mindfulness!
Mindful meal factor: 4/5
I am cooking baked miso salmon with steamed brown rice and cucumber sesame salad. I love this meal! This is really a treat full of flavors I adore and feel great eating. The kids really like this too so I know I won’t have to argue and battle with them to eat it. Always a bonus!
I cook this meal slowly, almost ritualistically, preparing the miso marinade and rubbing it on the salmon to allow to marinate, gently turning the fillets now and then. The cucumber is sliced thinly and tossed in sesame dressing. The rice is slowly steamed as I listen carefully for the hiss-crackle that signals it is done. So I’m already being mindful as I cook, the kids are happily drawing and there are no distractions.
We sit down and I ask the kids to think about their food the same way as the raisin yesterday. They are very enthusiastic about the task which is excellent and they really focus on it. This doesn’t make for a very mindful meal for me however, as I am too busy responding to a hundred comments of ‘hmm, it’s soft and juicy mummy isn’t it?’, ‘I think it’s got a spice mummy, it’s making my tongue curl. Is your tongue curling?’! All good fun though!
Mindful meal factor: 3/5
I woke up earlier today not wanting to rush through breakfast again. We’re making good time so I take longer over breakfast. It’s still not easy and I’m not exactly relaxed! I do however, manage a fairly mindful bowl of oatmeal. I don’t finish it, but this morning it’s because I am full before I finish the bowl, not because I am in too much of a rush. Success!
Mindful meal factor: 3/5
Much the same as yesterday, I find it easy to eat mindfully because there are few distractions. Today is falafels with a big green salad and Greek yogurt with mint. Looooove this lunch! I eat this slowly, savor every bite and put all work discussions with my husband on hold. I even for the first time ever… leave a falafel on the plate because I am full. I did end up eating it as a mid afternoon snack though!
Mindful meal factor: 5/5
We sit to eat, there’s the usual family chatter as we catch up with each other’s days, but nobody’s fussing so I am able to eat slowly and savor my dinner. I decide to play a game with the kids to see if they can spend 5 minutes in silence to focus on their eating (a great mindful activity for anyone to try). My son lasts the full 5 minutes but my daughter only lasts about 20 seconds!
In terms of mindful eating, this meal was definitely a success! I finish my chicken and broccoli but notice I am too full to eat all of the rice. I often find when I rush my food, I finish the whole plate.
Mindful meal factor: 4/5
Oops, today is a coffee on the go as I rush out to hit the food market before it gets too busy.
Mindful meal factor: 0/5
Wednesday Sneaky Snack
I was so hungry come mid-morning I picked up a packet of chips and was shoveling them in my mouth when I remembered my mindful eating. Oops again. Immediately I slow down and start paying attention. I notice how salty the chips are and after a few more it becomes unpleasant and I’m done. So I’d call that not only a success, but a miracle too.
Mindful meal factor: 3/5
Results . . .
I won’t go through every other day of the week but to summarize, breakfasts did pose a challenge but it became easier to have a mindful dinner as the week went on and I let myself relax and ignore any distractions.
What I did notice was that while I was practicing mindful eating I enjoyed my food so much more! I really appreciated my meals and savored them rather than spending all the time cooking them then rushing through the eating part! The other thing I noticed was that I was eating less. I was getting full before I finished and actually leaving food on my plate!
I am absolutely going to continue with practicing mindful eating and I can really see how effective it can be. I didn’t have to change my diet or count anything, I was just learning to pay attention while I was eating. And even if I didn’t manage to eat mindfully all the time, the times that I did made a huge difference!
Have you tried mindful eating? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!