If you regularly eat when you’re not truly hungry, choose unhealthy comfort foods, or eat beyond fullness, something is out of balance. Recent advances in brain science have uncovered the crucial role that our early social and emotional environment plays in the development of imbalanced eating patterns.
When we do not receive consistent and sufficient emotional nurturance during our early years, we are at greater risk of seeking it from external sources, such as food. Despite logical arguments, we have difficulty modifying our behavior because we are under the influence of an emotionally dominant part of the brain.
The good news is that the brain can be rewired for optimal emotional health. This article presents a breakthrough mindfulness practice called Mindful Eating with the help of Inner Nurturing, a comprehensive, step-by-step program developed.
You’ll also learn how to nurture yourself with the loving-kindness you crave and handle stressors more easily so that you can stop turning to food for comfort. Improved health and self-esteem, more energy, and weight loss will naturally follow.
This article is for all those who would like to improve their relationship with food. Whether you have a moderate tendency to overeat, as so many of us do, or whether you are struggling with obesity, bulimia, anorexia, or other such problems, this article is for you.
Over my many years practicing mindfulness, I have come to trust mindfulness as one of the very best medicines. Most techniques for changing our eating try to impose change from the outside. Sometimes this fits with the unique being that we are, and it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Mindfulness brings about change from the inside. A natural and organic process, it occurs in the manner and at the rate that fits us. It is the ultimate in natural healing.
Table of Contents
What Does It Mean to Be Mindful?
“How often do you eat when you’re not really hungry, eat too much, or choose to eat comfort foods you know aren’t good for you? If you do these things more than you’d like, this article is definitely for you.
It will help you recognize the signs of emotional eating so that you can instantly tell the difference between emotional hunger and actual physiological hunger. And it will help you nurture yourself so that every part of you — including your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and your relationships — is truly and wonderfully well fed.”
Food, water, shelter. Most people are familiar with this list of basic human needs. And, of course, a basic need, like the need for food, is something that absolutely must be met. Yet every day millions of people struggle with how to eat food in a manner that doesn’t destroy their health, sanity, or sense of self-worth. For something that seems like it should be so simple, deciding what to eat and following through with it has proved for so many to be so difficult as to be essentially impossible.
Building new skills takes practice and patience. You will not master them overnight. Allow yourself the time you need to proceed through this article. A slow and steady approach is needed to conquer your emotional eating and meet your goals. As you work on these skills and habits, watch any tendency toward perfectionism, which may imbalance you further. It’s more important to practice what you’re learning consistently — not perfectly.
In the beginning, the skills may feel challenging. Learning to turn inward and use a kind, the supportive inner voice may feel awkward. But as you build the integrative circuits of your brain, it will get easier, and you’ll feel better equipped than ever to address your needs and set limits on unwanted behaviors. That’s the power of inner nurturing. Now, let’s get started!
Be Mindful Meaning?
Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart, and mind—and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without judgment or criticism.
So, one can be mindful when he/she is deliberately paying attention to what they are consuming, or to what is happening both inside and outside their environment without any judgments or criticism.
Mindful Eating Exercises
Mindful eating is a way to rediscover one of the most pleasurable things we do as human beings. It also is a path to uncovering many wonderful activities that are going on right under our noses and within our bodies.
Mindful eating also has the unexpected benefit of helping us tap into our body’s natural wisdom and our heart’s natural capacity for openness and gratitude.
In the Zen tradition, we practice bringing skillful attention, curiosity, and inquiry to all of our activities, including the activities of tasting and eating. The Zen teachings encourage us to explore the present moment fully, asking ourselves questions like:
- Am I hungry?
- Where do I feel hunger?
- What part of me is hungry?
- What do I crave?
- Or, what am I tasting just now?
These are very simple questions, but we seldom pose them. This article will help you find answers to some of these questions and will give you tools to continue to discover answers in the future.
Anything that we attend to carefully and patiently will open itself up to us. Once we can apply the power of a concentrated, focused mind, anything, potentially all things, will reveal they’re true hearts to us. It is that heart-to-heart connection with ourselves, with our loved ones, and with the world itself that all of us so dearly long for. It can be found in such a simple act as eating a piece of bread.
All it takes is a little bit of courage and the willingness to begin the most delightful of all adventures, the journey of looking, smelling, tasting, and feeling.
Mindful Eating Exercise #1: The Basic Mindful Eating Meditation
Now our journey begins. This first mindful eating exercise is essential— many of the other exercises in this article rest upon this one, so please don’t skip it. In this exercise, we will experiment with bringing our full awareness to eating a very small amount of food.
For this exercise, you will need a single raisin. Other foods will also work, such as dried cranberry, a single strawberry, a cherry tomato, or an unusual type of cracker.
- Begin by sitting quietly and assessing your baseline hunger: How hungry are you, on a scale of zero to ten? Where do you “look” in your body to decide how hungry you are?
- Imagine that you are a scientist on a mission to explore a new planet. Your spaceship has landed and found the planet to be quite hospitable. You can breathe the air and walk around without any problem. The surface of the planet seems to be bare of dirt and rock, and no one has seen any obvious life forms yet.
- The food supplies on your spaceship are running low, however, and everyone is getting hungry. You have been asked to scout out this planet to look for anything that might be edible. As you walk around you find a small object lying on the ground, and you pick it up. Place the raisin (or another food item) on your palm. You are going to investigate it with the only tools you have, your five senses. You have no idea what this object is. As, you have never seen it before.
- Eye hunger: First you investigate this object with your eyes. Look at its color, shape, and surface texture. What does the mind say that it could be? Now rate your eye hunger for this item. On a scale of zero to ten, how much hunger do you have for this object based upon what your eyes see?
- Nose hunger: Now, you investigate it with your nose. Smell it, refresh the nose, and sniff it again. Does this change your idea of whether it might be edible? Now rate nose hunger. On a scale of zero to ten, how much hunger do you have for this object based upon what your nose smells?
- Mouth hunger: Now you investigate this object with your mouth. Place it in your mouth but do not bite it. You can roll it around and explore it with the tongue. What do you notice? Now you can bite this mysterious object, but only once. After biting it once, roll it around again in the mouth and explore it with the tongue. What do you notice? Now rate mouth hunger. On a scale of zero to ten, how much hunger do you have for this object based upon what the mouth tastes and feels? In other words, how much does the mouth want to experience more of it?
- Stomach hunger: Now you decide to take a risk and eat this unknown object. You chew it slowly, noticing the changes in the mouth in texture and taste. You swallow it. And, you notice whether there are still any bits in the mouth. What does the tongue do when you have finished eating it? How long can you detect the flavor? Now rate stomach hunger. Is the stomach full or not, satisfied or not? On a scale of zero to ten, rate stomach hunger. In other words, how much does the stomach want more of this food?
- Cellular hunger: Become aware of this food passing into the body. Absorption begins as soon as we begin chewing. Are there any sensations that tell you that this food is being absorbed? How is it being received by the cells in the body? Now rate cellular hunger. On a scale of zero to ten, how much would the cells like to have more of this food?
- Mind hunger: Can you hear what the mind is saying about this food? (Hint: Often the mind talks in “should’s” or “should not’s.”) Now rate mind hunger. On a scale of zero to ten, how much would the mind like you have more of this food?
- Heart hunger: Is the heart saying anything about this food? On a scale of zero to ten, how soothing or comforting is it? Would the heart like you to have more of this food?
You might like to repeat this exercise with liquid. Pick a drink you have never had before, such as an exotic fruit juice. Take your time and assess each kind of thirst separately.
At first, we might find this exercise difficult. As with all aspects of practice, the more you do it, the more your awareness opens up. If you try this exercise with many kinds of food and drink, gradually you will be able to sense and rate the different kinds of hunger more easily.
As you continue to practice mindful eating you will develop skills and confidence in a new and more balanced relationship with food. You will be able to nourish the body, heart, and mind, and to regain a sense of ease and enjoyment with eating.
One of the essential aspects of mindful eating is that of becoming more inquisitive and interested in the feeling of hunger itself.
Mindful Eating Exercise #2: Becoming Aware of Eye Hunger
When you first sit down to eat, take a few moments to look at the food. Notice colors, textures, shapes, arrangements on the plate. What do the eyes like about the food?
- Buy or borrow a women’s magazine such as Woman’s Day or Martha Stewart Living.
- Leaf through the pages, noticing what pictures appeal to eye hunger. How many photos in one magazine made you hungry?
- If there are recipes in the magazine, try reading some without paying attention to the pictures. (It is hard to ignore the photos. They make them appealing on purpose.) This may work better if you have someone else read the recipes out loud. Notice if just hearing the recipes creates a hunger for you or not.
Note: When you go to a restaurant notice anything that appeals to your eye hunger. Include the menu and any food displays in your investigation.
Mindful Eating Exercise #3: Creating a Feast for the Eyes
Try making a mindful meal once a week for yourself as if you were a guest. You could get out your best plates and silverware, a placemat or tablecloth, even a small vase of flowers and a candle. Arrange food appealingly, as if for a guest. As you eat, let your eyes “feed” on not only the food but the other aspects of your table.
In mindful eating classes, we serve apples on two different plates. The first plate is picked to be unattractive and it holds a few less-than-perfect apples. The second plate has apple slices carefully arrayed on a bed of leaves and flowers. People rate each for eye hunger. (In Japan people do not eat whole apples or pears. They are always sliced and attractively presented.)
Mindful Eating Exercise #4: Feeding Eye Hunger without Eating
As you proceed through this article, you’ll learn to observe your hunger with greater curiosity and attentiveness. Sometimes you’ll discover that when you feel hungry, it’s not that your body wants food but that your eyes are hungry for beauty.
Experiment with feeding eye hunger by itself, without eating any food. Find something that is lovely or at least interesting to look at. Stop and look at this something for a few minutes, drinking it in with your eyes. It could be the colored petals of a flower, a picture on the wall, or the many greens of the tree leaves outside your office window. Flower gardens or fabric stores are great places to feed the eyes on colors, patterns, and textures.
The thing you choose to look at could be as simple as the colored paint on the walls or the patterns and textures of a cement sidewalk. Imagine that the energy that radiates from this sight enters your eyes and is absorbed into your body. Feed your eyes as long as you like. You may find that feeding the eyes also feeds the heart.
Mindful Eating Exercise #5: Becoming Mindful of Nose Hunger
This is not an exercise to do when eating in polite company (unless you want to get rid of your polite company). Wait until you are alone or with someone you can explain this to.
- Before you start to eat a meal, smell the food. Rather than bending down to nuzzle your food, bring the plate or bowl or piece of food up to your nose and inhale deeply, like a wine connoisseur. Do this several times, trying to detect as many components of the smells as you can. You can imagine that you have been asked to guess the ingredients or to write a description of the aroma.
- As you eat, continue to be aware of smell (which we also call taste). As you chew, notice if the taste is stronger on the in-breath or the out-breath, or does it change?
- After you’ve finished eating, sit for a few moments and notice how long you continue to taste the food. If you decided not to take another bite until you could no longer taste the food you had just swallowed, how long might that take?
Intuitive Eating Meaning?
Intuitive Eating is an experience that engages all parts of us, our body, our heart, and our mind, in choosing, preparing, and eating food. Mindful eating involves all the senses. It immerses us in the colors, textures, scents, tastes, and even sounds of drinking and eating. It allows us to be curious and even playful as we investigate our responses to food and our inner cues to hunger and satisfaction.
Intuitive eating is not directed by charts, tables, pyramids, or scales. It is not dictated by an expert. It is directed by your own inner experiences, moment by moment. Your experience is unique. Therefore, you are the expert.
Mindful eating or intuitive eating is not based on anxiety about the future but on the actual choices that are in front of you and on your direct experiences of health while eating and drinking. Mindful eating replaces self-criticism with self-nurturing. It replaces shame with respect for your inner wisdom.
Through mindful eating, we can learn to be present when we eat. It seems so simple, to be aware of what we are eating, but somehow we have lost track of how to do it. Mindful eating is a way to reawaken our pleasure in simply eating, simply drinking.
Define Mindless Eating?
Mindless eating can occur simply any time that the brain is distracted and the person consuming the food is not aware of what or how much food he or she is consuming. The concept of mindless eating is the idea that the unconscious decisions we make about eating/food can have profound effects on our diet and weight.
In mindful or conscious eating we are not comparing or judging. We are simply witnessing the many sensations, thoughts, and emotions that come up around eating. This is done in a straightforward, no-nonsense way, but it is warmed with kindness and spiced with curiosity.
Conscious eating is not about diets or rules. It is about exploring what we already have and appreciating everything we are doing. Will you lose or gain weight if you bring mindfulness into cooking and eating? I don’t know. What you could lose is the weight of the mind’s unhappiness with eating and dissatisfaction with food. What you could gain is a simple joy with food and an easy pleasure in eating that are your birthrights as a human being.
We all have to eat. It is a basic requirement of being alive. Unfortunately, few daily activities are so loaded with pain and distress, with guilt and shame, with unfulfilled longing and despair than the simple act of putting energy into our bodies. When we learn to eat mindfully, our eating can be transformed from a source of suffering to a source of renewal, self-understanding, and delight.
Establishing a Healthier Relationship with Food
When our relationship to food falls out of harmony, we lose our innate enjoyment of eating. When the relationship has been disordered for many years, it is easy to forget what “normal” eating is like. It’s what “normal” eating was like because in infancy almost everyone experienced natural happiness with eating and an instinctive awareness of how much was satisfying.
Here are some elements of a healthy relationship to food.
- You feel happy and fully engaged in life when you are not eating. (Food is not your only reliable source of pleasure and satisfaction.)
- If you are not feeling hungry, you don’t eat.
- You stop eating when you feel full and can leave food on the plate.
- You have intervals of at least several hours when you are not hungry or thinking about food, punctuated by (meal) times when you do feel hungry and take enjoyment in eating.
- And, you enjoy eating many different kinds of foods.
- You maintain a healthy weight that is steady or fluctuates within a range of five to seven pounds. Or, you don’t need to weigh yourself more than once every few months or years.
- You don’t obsess about food or count calories to decide if you can “afford” to eat something or not. If some or all of the items on this list don’t apply to you, you’re not alone. Many of us have developed unhealthy habits due to a variety of influences in our lives. Fortunately, mindful eating can help restore your natural sense of balance, satisfaction, and delight with food.
Also Read: Practicing Real Happiness with Mindfulness