In today’s world, we’re used to rushing through our lives — especially when it comes to eating. We often do everything while we eat. We eat during our commutes to work, or at our desks as we’re scrambling to finish a task.
Rather than savoring our meals, we eat and read, or we eat and watch TV, or we eat and work on our computers.
We rarely just sit and eat and focus on our food. Sometimes, I wonder if deep down we simply think that we don’t deserve to just eat and enjoy it.
That’s why, today, I’m pleased to present my interview with Ed Halliwell, who discusses mindful eating and how we can actually savor our meals.
Halliwell is co-author of the book The Mindful Manifesto. He’s a UK-based mindfulness teacher and writer. He also writes for the Guardian newspaper on meditation and well-being, and writes a regular blog for mindful.org.
Q: What does it mean to eat mindfully?
A: When we eat mindfully, we can actually practice being fully present to our food, and to the experience of eating it. So it means bringing awareness to sensations of touch, smell and taste, really appreciating the pleasure of food, which is one of the great and basic joys of being alive.
It also means being aware of what’s going in us when we eat – we’re paying attention to body sensations of emptiness and fullness in our stomach, for example, and our tendencies and urges to eat in a rushed way, just wolfing food down rather than really savoring it.
We’re not judging ourselves for those habits, but being curious about them, and experimenting with the possibility of slowing down enough to really be aware of food and our relationship to it.
Q: What are the benefits of eating mindfully?
A: If we’re aware of how we’re relating to the experience of eating, we might not be so easily caught up in patterns which don’t serve us. We might not find ourselves stuffing down food we don’t really need or want, or continuing to eat after we’re full, or be so distracted on auto-pilot mode that we miss the pleasure of eating, or get caught in patterns of eating that are actually a reaction to an emotional rather than a physical hunger.
We can start to notice when our relationship with eating is beneficial, and when it is detrimental, and because of that awareness, we can make healthy choices about what, how and when we eat.
Q: What are your suggestions for eating mindfully?
A: First, see if you can give eating your full attention more often. Rather than having TV dinners, or lunches at your desk at work, experiment with making time and space to just eat – whether that’s taking your lunch out to a local park when the weather’s warm, or sharing more meals with family and friends at the table.
Secondly, slow down, and notice if you’ve got into the habit of racing through your meals. What’s the rush?
Third, notice what you’re eating – sometimes when people start bringing mindfulness to their eating habits, they discover that they don’t actually like a lot of what they eat, and start to feel drawn to healthier food that nourishes them more. They notice that eating too much, or too much junk, has become an unconscious habit.
[MT: I’d say the same for “diet foods,” foods that are no-fat or low-fat or have fewer calories. For instance, you might notice that you prefer gelato, instead of a Weight Watchers ice cream bar.]
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about mindful eating?
A: Mindful eating isn’t a specific technique, a way of dieting or even of trying to eat more healthily. The problem with ‘trying’ to eat more healthily is it can set up a control-orientated way of relating with food.
We can struggle with ourselves, get disappointed when we fall into old habits, and berate ourselves for not being more disciplined.
Mindfulness is more gentle than this. People sometimes tell me that their relationship with eating has become more joyful and less stressful, not as a result of trying to make that happen, but just as a by-product of starting a mindfulness practice.
Somehow, when we start to pay attention to what’s going on in a meditative way (and the best way to cultivate mindfulness is through a daily meditation practice), we naturally begin to notice when we’re engaging in habits that aren’t good for us, and we may naturally find these starting to drop away.
As we become more aware of what’s going on in our thoughts, emotions and body sensations, we can develop the capacity to step out of our old, automatic patterns, and come more into a place of consciously chosen actions.
When it comes to eating, that means choosing what we eat and how much of it – not as a strict discipline or self-punishment, but because we like taking care of ourselves and enjoying what’s good for us.
You can learn more about mindfulness and Halliwell’s book in this interview at Adventures in Positive Psychology, a Psych Central blog authored by Joe Wilner.