Have you ever filled your plate with food and felt surprised minutes later to find it empty? Have you ever eaten an entire meal and then found that you cannot remember the actual process of eating it? You are not alone!
I’ve been reading a lot about the topic of mindful eating lately. In fact, the other day I was reading my book on mindful eating while sitting down to lunch at a food court. (A little ironic, considering that one of the strategies for eating mindfully is to eat without distraction!) Anyway, I looked up from my book and found that only two of the 50 or more people in the food court were actually eating without distraction (reading, playing on their phones, etc.).
Similar to distracted driving, when we try to do something else at the same time as we are eating, we end up not giving either task enough of our attention. Not that eating mindlessly has the same deadly consequences that distracted driving can have, but it does take away the potential pleasure, sense of satiation, and well-being associated with sitting down and truly savouring everything about the food we are eating.
I often suggest to clients that when they want to eat chips (for example), they might try portioning them into a bowl and sitting at the kitchen table to eat them instead of eating them in front of the TV. Along with a certain facial expression and quite possibly an eye roll, they often comment that they probably just wouldn’t eat chips if they had to sit down at the table to do it. And that is exactly the point: When we focus on mindful consumption, the focus of our eating changes.
One of the first questions I like to ask people when beginning this conversation is, “What is your reason for eating? Is it to fuel your body? Is it an intentional snack or treat? Or is it a mindless attempt to fill an emptiness caused by emotion or perhaps boredom?” Those of us with a history of eating mindlessly in response to emotion can attest to the fact that while the initial sensations of eating food makes us feel good, it lasts only minutes and we are once again left with what took us to the pantry in the first place: an unfelt and unprocessed emotion.
There are many ways to numb feelings, and eating is at the top of the list. But what can we do about it?
The first step is always awareness. If you find yourself heading to the pantry, try asking yourself, “Am I physically hungry? Would I eat an apple right now if it were offered?” Typically, if we offer ourselves a fruit or vegetable to determine physical hunger, we will opt out if it is emotional hunger we are feeling.
Once you have determined that emotional hunger is at play, ask yourself what you are really hungry for. Then ask yourself what you can do about it. Is there an option other than eating that might help you process whatever emotion you are feeling and have a more lasting effect than food would have? Remember, emotional eating can only suppress emotion, not change it. Also remember, however, that you have the power to change your habits with awareness and action!
If the topic of mindful eating is of interest to you, our Wellness in Action group is focusing on it for the next five weeks. Please join us any Thursday evening from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Alternatively, talk with your coach about how s/he can support you in the process of moving toward more mindful eating.