Mindful Eating 101: A Beginner’s Guide

In honour of #EDAwarenessweek, and in honour of all who are battling with an ED, I decided to write this piece about mindful eating – bringing in mindfulness not only during eating, but also before and afterwards.
What is mindfulness, and what is mindful eating? Why and how can we mindfully eat? How does it relate to distorted eating? Find out the answers to these questions below.

What is mindfulness?

First of all, let me explain what mindfulness exactly is. Mindfulness is about bringing your attention to this moment, and focusing on what is going on in your head (noticing thoughts), body (noticing emotions and feelings) and environment. As we practice awareness, we bring in compassion, non-judgment, and curiosity. We want to come from a place of observing our reality instead of serving it, and stop living on automatic pilot, without any awareness of what is going on.

Now, what is mindful eating all about?

Before I explain it, I’d love if you can take the time to reflect on these questions:
  • What was the last thing you ate today?
  • How did it really taste like?
  • What did it look like?
  • What was the texture like?
  • How long did it take you to eat it?
  • Were was your attention while you were eating it?
  • Were you focus on the food, or watching, reading something else?
  • How did you feel before you ate?
  • How did you feel after you ate?
If I would ask you these questions after you went to a Michelin restaurant, you would probably give me way more details about the food then if I were to ask you about your homemade lunch. That’s the beauty of our senses: we can use them to focus our attention back into this moment. Because that expensive meal was so special, you used all your senses to fully savour the moment. By doing it the other way, by engaging our senses, we can make every moment count.
As you might have noticed, mindful eating is about fully focusing on what you are eating. It is also about removing distractions that might keep you from eating mindfully, such as our scrolling through your phone, reading the newspaper, continuing with any activity such as working or even watching the tv.
However, mindful eating starts before the eating part. It is about noticing when you think about food, whether you are really hungry or an addiction or craving or habit is kicking in, through listening to our bodies and bringing in awareness. Awareness, not judgement – we want to not judge ourselves or judge sensations, thoughts or feelings that may arise. We simply notice that they are there, instead of suppressing them of making ourselves feels worse about it.
When you can bring your kind, gentle, non-judgemental curiosity to this, you can then take action as you please – eat when you are hungry, fulfil the craving, continue the habit, feed the addiction – or not. And that is where the power lays: the moment you create the awareness, you create a space, a space where you have the freedom to choose what you do next.
In a scenario of disordered eating, this becomes very interesting. Because after creating awareness, we can bring in compassion to ourselveshey, it’s okay you are having these thoughts, it’s okay you want to do this. I don’t judge you. You are human. You are doing your best. (space to choose) – so this time, let’s take care and let’s do what it best for the body (however that looks like for you).

Why should I practice mindful eating?

Mindful eating has been proven to reduce binge-eating, eating disorders and illnesses/conditions related to it (obesitas, being overweight, too high calorie intake).
Even if you aren’t struggling with an eating disorder, mindful eating can help you in enjoying your food more, being more present while eating it and savouring it much more than if you were focused on something else and eating without being aware of it.
As we become of our thoughts, and sensations, we have the conscious choice on what to do next – for people with an eating disorder, this can be focusing on the positive and realising that the inner critic voice in your head is not telling the truth and is not who you are, but instead try to bring in some positive self-talk.
When your mind is clouded with negative thoughts about your self-image, body posture or weight, it’s great that you are aware of that, because now you can realise they are just thoughts and you bring in some of your own positive, empowering thoughts, and even do something that is good for you and your body.

How can I practice mindful eating?

When you notice thoughts or sensations that you are getting hungry, or craving a certain type of food, ask yourself: how does my body feel? Am I hungry, or just craving food? (you know when you are hungry when you are open to eating something different than the food you are craving, if you only want 1 type of food it is a craving)
When you are able to check in with your body first – again, with curiosity, non-judgment and compassion – you can give your body what it needs. It is not bad to have a craving, it is not bad to be hungry, we are practising simply noticing it.
Next, when you have brought your awareness to it, and you decided to eat and you have your food in front of you, ask yourself: How does it look like? What is the texture like? What are the colours like? How does it taste like? Take your time with eating, fully savour it, and engage with your 5 senses. What helps is imagining it is a expensive meal in a 5-star restaurant. This automatically allows us to focus on it more, because it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How does mindfulness even relate to disordered eating?

Our world is full of distractions. Bringing in mindfulness whether you have an ED or not, can make you feel better in your own skin, can help increase self-compassion, non-judgment and can help you get out of your mind and back into this moment, making informed decisions and taking action as you think is best.
Are there any studies or proof that it has a positive impact?
Yes, there are studies conducted that prove that mindfulness has a positive impact on people struggling with an eating disorder. These studies were small-scaled and call for further investigation and more experiments, since the results were promising.

“Another study found that mindfulness-based group treatment may be effective for patients suffering from bulimia nervosa. Participants described their transformation from emotional and behavioural extremes, disembodiment and self-loathing to greater self-awareness, acceptance and compassion, according to this study.”

https://themeadowglade.com/mindfulness-and-eating-disorders/

The present study is an exploratory examination of the efficacy of the application of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders. It employs a systematic review technique in which terms from the Psychological Index Terms of the American Psychological Association (APA) were chosen and analyzed in conjunction with Boolean operators. Using data obtained by the online consultation of references from 12 different bibliographical databases, 8 studies were included in the systematic review. Each study reported satisfactory results, although trial qualities were variable and sample sizes were small. Nonetheless, the current study found initial evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders. The application of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders remains a promising approach worthy of further research.

The application of mindfulness to eating disorders treatment: a systematic review
Rocío Guardiola Wanden-Berghe 1Javier Sanz-ValeroCarmina Wanden-Berghe

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21181578/
Mindfulness seems to be a good candidate for improving your self-awareness and bringing in more compassion. That makes total sense, since the pillars of mindfulness are awareness, non-judgement, curiosity and compassion.
The fact that is has been scientifically proven and tested on people, is just amazing news – it proof us humans are capable of healing ourselves, not through only medication or other external factors, but from within, form our minds – mindfulness.
Have you tried mindful eating? I challenge you to try it out during your next meal. Notice what difference it makes!

3 Life-Changing Benefits of Mindfulness

Living mindfully means more than meditating, being calm all the time, or having no stress (that’s impossible and not the goal). Mindful living means making conscious choices instead of living on automatic pilot. It means living our truth, and getting closer to ourselves. I’d like to share with you some powerful lessons that I came across this week. These lessons reminded me that mindfulness and its benefits are so much more than less anxiety, more peace, better sleep,…🤍

1. From rushing to stopping & making conscious choices

Living mindfully means living in this moment. It means to get out of the spiral of rushing through our morning, day, week, month and whole life. It means slowing down and coming back to this very moment.
So, why it is so important to get out of the automatic pilote mode?
When we are in automatic pilot mode, it feels like we are on a treadmill, always going, not stopping for a moment, and doing most of our life automatically – without thinking.
This is not a bad thing of course. I love that I am able to walk without thinking, get in a car and drive without thinking about every little action, and other automatised things in our lives we’ve grown customed to.
It’s about the moments we do want to be present in, the actions we do want to experience, and our lives we don’t want to miss out on. It’s about being able to press pause, and stop rushing through life for a moment. When we are not thinking, our actions flow automatically. When we are present, we can make our own decisions & act accordingly.
A great example is when you are having an argument. Most of us answer without listening. We talk fast, to answer the other person, but actually we have not really listened to them or we have not really thought about what we want to say. We automatically say something back, out of anger, frustration, or whatever is driving you at that moment. When we are mindful – present – we have the chance to pause, to not be lead by our emotions, and in that pause we have the chance to consciously respond.
That’s where the power of mindfulness lies in: conscious choices.
I learned this in handling my anxiety – it started with noticing I was beginning to feel anxious: I noticed my thoughts going in a spiral about a possible outcome about the future, I noticed my palms getting sweaty and my stomach turning around, and I also noticed I was sitting in a bus, totally at peace, undisturbed, and that this anxiety/negative stress was not necessary right now.
So after becoming aware of it, I consciously chose to guide my attention back to my breath – through counting my breaths and taking long, deep breaths. This allows my nervous system to calm down, and guide my mind and body back into this moment, away from the what-if scenarios in my mind.

2. From complaining to giving thanks & having enough

We live in a society that runs fast, as we discussed previously, We are constantly pushed to get a new phone, new car, new clothes, to always get more and more. It makes us feeling like we never have enough. When is it enough? When will we be fulfilled? The thrill of getting the newest phone only lasts a bit. it does not last forever. It fades, and then we satisfy ourselves with something else, and so it goes on and on.
Our society is often making us compare ourselves to others. Our judgmental minds then step in and does not really help us – we are our own worst critics. This amplifies the feeling of not being good enough, not having enough, not doing enough,…
How can mindfulness stop us from the treadmill or wanting more and allow us to appreciate what we have?
By showing gratitude, and focusing on all the things we can be grateful for and say thanks for, we shift our minds from lack to abundance. We go from not having x to I am grateful that I have x.
A process called neuroplasticity shows that the neural networks in our brains are able to change through growth and reorganisation (Wikipedia). In simple terms, we can re-write our brains by training it. How? By shifting our thoughts and mindset.
This is what happens when we practice gratitude. We are training our brain to recognise the good in a situation, to recognise the opportunity, to recognise what we do already have, instead of focusing on what’s lacking.
And there is only one way to practice gratitude: in this very moment. We cannot be grateful while being sad. We cannot experience any other emotion while being grateful, that’s the power and beauty of it. Where gratitude exists, the present moment is used to its fullest: to recognise our blessings.
Start with thinking about 1-3 things you can be grateful for when you wake up or go to sleep. Proceed by writing a gratitude list daily. You’ll notice the more you do this, the more things pop up which you can say thanks for. You don’t have to lok far for it: the simple fact that you are alive, reading this, and breathing, are things we often take for granted and is something you can definitely say thanks for.

3. From waiting on something to happen in order to be happy to living in joy right now

We are always thinking about the next big thing – the next day, the next presentation, the next gratification, the next trigger that gives us that hit of dopamine.
We have this picture in our minds of how things will go, and we keep telling us : I’ll be happy then. I’ll be happy when I make it through the end of the week and head into the weekend. But why can’t we be happy at the beginning of the week, or int he middle? Why do we feel the need to get through something in order to finally feel happy?
These boosts, these sort-lasting hits of dopamine we get through instant gratification are way different than the long-lasting joy we can access right now.
When we get back to this moment, we can let go of the worrying, the fantasising,
How can mindfulness help us access longlasting, inner joy in this moment instead of waiting for it to happen?
Simply guiding our attention to our breath, our surroundings can bring us back to this moment. When we are in this moment, we realise we have all that we need, right here, right now.
When we pay attention to our reality right now, we realise how wonderful it is and then, joy comes from within. Live like this everyday, and you’ll start to build up your inner “ball of joy”. That feeling of appreciation will get easier to access.
Train your mind to see the wonders of life in this very moment. Instead of looking for contentment in the future, trying to chase something that will never fill up the cravings, stop. Stop and feel the joy of this very moment.
How? By practising mindfulness. By paying attention: to the little things, to the big things, to the running water when you shower, to nature, to the clouds, to fresh air, to your bed, to every new morning you get to experience.
Simply guide your attention to the here and now. And you’ll notice that you’ll start to see your worries in your mind as what they try are: just thoughts. Not the truth.
Stay true to yourself. You’ve got this!
For more information on mindfulness, and how to exactly bring your attention back to this moment through breath, the 5 senses or many more ways, check out the other blogs on this topic, get your free copy of my mindfulness e-book or sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
If you’d like to have a deeper, private guidance with mindfulness, I’ve recently opened up 2 spots for private coaching. Sign up here for a free clarity call and let’s connect!