Mindful-not-mouthful approach to eating aims to override the old habit of “if eat – then be mindless” by a new, more adaptive habit of “if eat – then be mindful.” In a manner of speaking, the mindful-not-mouthful approach to eating aims to automate mindfulness. Automate mindfulness? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?! Not really. The goal is habit modification. While the goal of making mindful eating a habit may seem paradoxical, it really isn’t. The idea is to help you become habitually mindful of your eating, to get to the point where the decision to be mindful about eating is evoked mindlessly, automatically, effortlessly, and out of force of habit. Yes, I’d like for mindful eating to have the force of habit in your eating life. This kind of habit-forming or conditioning is the only assurance that the book in your hands will help you make a lasting difference in your battle with overeating.
Mindfulness and knowledge are different things. Knowledge is informational awareness. Mindfulness is experiential awareness. To know something is different from experiencing something. In your self-help readings or treatment encounters you might have come across the advice to “eat mindfully” or “slow down your eating and be conscious of taste.” Knowing this advice leads to informational awareness. Applying this advice creates experiential awareness.
Knowing that you need to be conscious of your eating or even trying it a few times, according to someone’s prototype of mindful eating, is insufficient for a change in eating habits. And yet, informational awareness is a vital precursor of change.
The intent of the approach is to help you make the three-point journey from (1) knowledge (of mindful eating), to (2) practice (of mindful eating), to the destination of (3) habitual application (of mindful eating); from the starting point of appreciating the necessity of mindful eating, to experimenting with it, to the permanent awakening of the overeating “zombie.”
Portion control, the good ol’ divide (the portion) and conquer (overeating) approach, is not without merit. But what if you redefine the portion size from how many mouthfuls you can have to how many mindfuls you need to feel full, if you shift your attention from a mouthful to a mindful, from a serving to a savoring?
What’s a mindful? A mindful, to coin a term, is a unit of mental absorption in whatever it is that you are doing. For example, as you look back at a typical day, perhaps most of it was spent in a state of robotic, mindless monotony, with the exception of a couple of moments when you were really present, thoughtful, and mindful of something. Maybe you found yourself scratching your head over some challenging problem. Maybe, at the end of your lunch break, you caught a glimpse of a bird swaying on a tree branch. Maybe, when finally home, sitting in your car in the driveway, you had a sense of perspective. Whatever their content, these moments of being mindful are just that: states of being attuned to the moment, absorbed in the here and now.
In application to eating, a Mindful is a moment of being conscious of eating. Maybe it will last ten seconds, maybe half a minute. But however long, it is a unit of awareness, a serving of mindfulness.
A Savoring, to coin another term, is a unit of mindful appreciation, a moment of conscious enjoyment, a highlight. To have a savoring, you first have to have a moment of eating consciousness (a mindful). After all, how can you enjoy a moment if you are not aware of it? So, whereas mouthfuls and servings are the units of fullness, mindfuls and savorings are the units of mind-fullness.
To help you shift from fullness to mind-fullness, I suggest that at the end of your meals, you look back at your experience and take stock of how conscious you were of your eating and of the moments of eating you enjoyed. How many mindfuls did you have? Which moments were you actually fully conscious? Were you present …