Many people have gotten into the habit of eating while doing other activities, such as watching television, engaging in conversation, or working. Even when not multi-tasking, our thoughts may carry our attention away from the act of eating. These distractions prevent us from experiencing as much satisfaction from the food that we eat and frequently lead to overeating.
Mindful eating is the practice of enhancing your awareness of the experience of eating by placing your full attention on the process of eating as it occurs in the present moment. In addition to the many benefits of practicing mindfulness – including increasing enjoyment of an activity, decreasing distress, and enhancing ability to focus – research has shown that mindful eating may also help with weight loss because it typically leads to being satisfied with smaller portions of food.
For today’s mindful eating exercise, I recommend practicing with a small food item (e.g., a nut, raisin, or piece of candy) that you can easily hold in your hand. After practicing this exercise a few times and becoming familiar with the process of mindful eating, try practicing this exercise when taking the first bite of each meal to support you in eating more mindfully throughout the rest of the meal. When using a utensil, rather than holding food in your hand, observe sensations of touch by noting the relative ease or difficulty of picking the food up with the utensil, the weight of the food on the utensil, etc. Also, try placing the utensil down between bites to support you in slowing down the process of eating and fully attending to each individual bite.
*Reminder: If your attention begins to wander at any point during this exercise, remember that this is completely normal. Simply note it and, without judgment, try to shift your attention back to eating mindfully.
MINDFUL EATING EXERCISE:
Begin by looking at the food in front of you. Observe the shape, texture, color, and any other visual aspects of the food. Are these aspects uniform or is there any variation? If you haven’t already, pick the item up and turn it over in your hands while noting any new information about its visual appearance.
Shift your attention to how the food feels in your hand. Note its weight. Perhaps rub your fingers across it’s surface to explore how its texture feels.
Lift the food up to your nose and note any scents that you detect. You may observe that you begin to salivate in reaction, as the mouth prepares to receive the food.
When ready, take one small bite of food. Allow it to sit on your tongue for a moment and notice how the food feels in your mouth, any physical sensations (e.g., an increase in saliva, movement of the tongue), or urges to begin to chew.
Place your full attention on how the food tastes in your mouth. You may choose to move the food around on your tongue and try to note any subtle changes in taste due to different regions of types of taste buds on the tongue.
Depending on the type of food, you may choose to allow it to slowly dissolve on your tongue or to begin to chew. Either way, try to make a conscious choice rather than reacting out of habit or instinct.
Try to remain mindful as you continue eating. Be mindful not to reach for, or lift to your lips, the next bite before fully finished eating the food from your previous bite. Focus on the present moment, rather than the near future.