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Mindful eating

In our high-speed 24/7 culture, we often gobble down our food without thinking about it. Using all five senses when eating keeps you focused on the present and can be as calming as meditation, writes Kelly Blainey.

One of the techniques I use to overcome my binge eating disorder is mindful eating. This is when you are consciously aware of every aspect of what you are eating – from the food’s taste, sound and texture, to why you are eating in the first place.

Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice of being fully present in each moment – not living in the past or for the future. It is used by therapists in conjunction with ‘traditional’ therapy to treat a range conditions, but especially those associated with addiction, avoidance or habit, such as binge eating disorder.

So much of my binge eating is habit. I used to think it was entirely emotional, that I only binged when I was sad/angry/stressed/guilty/whatever. But honestly, a big part of it is the association of eating and watching TV, which is purely habit.

Yes, there are some avoidance issues going on when I watch TV – not all the time, but certainly if I watch more than an hour or two at a time. It’s an area where I need to be more mindful – is this a program I really want to watch, or am I just watching rubbish to avoid doing any of my soul work (like writing or meditating)? When was the last time you thought about how much time you waste in front of the TV?

But back to mindfulness of eating. I read an article today in Science Daily, regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, and I said to myself ‘duh’. Of course yoga contributes to mindfulness. Spending time in silent awareness of your body, as you do in yoga, is naturally going to help you develop mindfulness in other aspects of your life, including eating.

But then, mindfulness is not always easy. Perhaps it takes research like this to remind us of how integrated all these things are – body, mind, spirit – and that looking after all three does take regular practice and dedication.

So, if you don’t do yoga, maybe now is a good time to investigate it. Most gyms have yoga classes, and there are specialised yoga centres all over the place. A lot of places offer a free introductory class so you can give it a try before handing over wads of money. But for those of you who aren’t into yoga, I thought I’d give an example of mindful eating, so you can see how being mindful can help.

One of the best ways to eat mindfully is to engage all your senses. By doing this, you slow down and begin to appreciate what it is you’re about to eat. When you have an appreciation of your food – not to mention when you slow down your eating – your need to binge melts away.

Your focus is on the pleasure of eating, not on the TV and not on the emotions you are trying to escape from. Instead, by experiencing the food through all five senses the act of eating becomes something that you do very consciously, mindfully.

Look at the food – take a moment to examine its shape and colour. Isn’t nature wonderful to be able to produce something that looks like this? Smell the food before you bite – get the anticipation going in your mouth and mind. Take the time to properly taste the food, instead of letting it pass down your throat hurriedly, and explore the flavours in your mouth. Feel the texture of the food in your mouth.

And finally, listen to the sounds of the food as you chew it – is there a crunch or some other noise?

When you eat with all five senses you are eating in the present moment. You are not stuck in the past, where that thing that upset you is. Nor are you in the future, thinking about your next bite or what you are going to eat next. You have slowed down and allowed yourself to be mindful of what you are eating.

There are other ways to eat mindfully, including asking yourself why you are eating. Are you actually hungry, or is there something else going on (habit, avoidance)? If you find the answer is that you are not really hungry, then you have a chance to examine what other emotions you are experiencing, and how these are influencing your decision to eat.

Next time you eat something, why not try engaging all five senses and see how it feels.

Kelly Blainey is a freelance writer who specialises in health and spirituality. She blogs about binge eating disorder and the politics of fat on her website Bite by Bite.


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