Diet culture has totally hijacked the idea of what it means to eat mindfully! In regards to food, we see mindful eating depicted alongside the “The Hunger/Fullness Diet,” which repackages the process of Intuitive Eating and turns it into a set of restrictive rules that makes us hyper-aware of what we’re eating, when we’re eating, how much we’re eating, and whether or not we’re eating “too much.”
Now, don’t get me wrong- tuning into hunger and fullness is a HUGE part of intuitive eating; so much that I break down the topic in this article. But most of the dancers who I work with in The Healthy Dancer® community are pretty out of touch with their intrinsic cues of hunger and fullness. This is usually a result of either intentional restrictions (like dieting) or unintentional restrictions. If you’re wondering where your cues have gone, then check out this article.
Here’s What Mindful Eating Is NOT
Eating mindfully is not an end goal of intuitive eating. Yup, I said it. If we strive for mindfulness in this way, we risk turning it into another form of external validation. The expectation to be 100% mindful 100% of the time doesn’t take life (and its many curve balls) into account. If we’re stressing over the idea of eating mindfully, then we’re probably not fostering a positive experience at mealtimes!
What Exactly Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a tool on your everyday journey of building a balanced relationship with food. When the time is right, mindfulness enables you to connect to the present moment. As you do this, you’ll process the information more clearly and be better equipped to make decisions that serve you here and now.
When you begin to utilize the tool of mindful eating, you add a major “nutrient” back to your balanced plate: experience. From your experience, whether it is positive, negative, or neutral, blooms a unique learning opportunity that allows you to move forward with building trust with your body’s intrinsic cues of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Overall, you’ll begin to experience fewer instances of feeling “out of control” around food and even less guilt around food. But remember, experiences of “emotional” eating, binge eating, and “overeating” should never result in feelings of guilt. In fact, each of these experiences are a survival mechanism designed by your body in response to deprivation. Read more about it here and here.
So How Can I Get There?
Here are 10 tips to begin the process of eating mindfully. Before you dive in, grab a journal (or, for the dancers who work with me, grab a copy of your Food & Mood Journal from The Healthy Dancer®or Fuel Your Fitness programs).
- Start eating enough throughout your day. Whether intentional or unintentional, under-fueling makes it IMPOSSIBLE to enter a meal or snack mindfully. To learn more about the signs of under-fueling and to learn how to fuel adequately, read this article.
- Then, pick 1 meal or snack each day (more if you have the time) and set time aside for the experience that we’re about to walk through.
- Tap into your senses: what’s the aroma like? How does the plate or food look to you? How about the texture? Does it look appetizing?
- Take an external scan: what’s your environemnt like? Are you with pleasant company? Do you feel tension in the air? Are you sitting in a busy and/or loud room (like a caefteria)? These scenarios could impact how you eat (fast, slow, tense, calm).
- Now take an internal scan: are you feeling stressed or anxious? If so, try a deep breathe. Are you feeling relaxed or extra socialable? How might this impact your ability to tune into those sensations explored in Step 3?
- As you begin to eat, dive deeper into the flavors. Are they familiar? New? Straight forward or complex? More seasoned foods will have more complex flavors.
- Now the texture. Soft? Crunchy? Chewy? Anything in particular you like or dislike?
- Assess three times. Are your fullness cues starting to emerge? Assess this at three different points throughout your meal or snack: (1) when you’re about 25% in, (2) at the 50% mark, and (3) if and when you’ve eaten about 75% of the food. Utilize The Hunger Fullness scale to identify what that means for you.
- Remove any judgement that seeped in. You have permission to eat your entire meal (or snack). Forget about serving sizes and instead, discover portion control from within. Here’s an article to help with this.
- Give yourself 5 and 20. First, ✋hi-5! From long rehearsal days and never-ending screen-time, gifting yourself the time to practice mindful eating is not easy. Now that you’ve done it, consider waiting about 20 minutes before assessing final fullness and satisfaction.
Now that you’ve walked through the process, jot down how you feel and if any changes might help for the future. Still hungry or not feeling satisfied? Assess whether your meal or snack was balanced. Also, you’ll need to make sure you’re honoring food preferences (rather than food rules). Here are two additional articles to help you discover opportunities for change.
Bottom line: allow mindful eating to help you create a non-judgemental journey towards rebuilding your relationship with food. Before you ridicule yourself for “not eating mindfully” the next time you experience a situation that doesn’t leave you feeling great physically or mentally, remember that it’s not because you weren’t “mindful,” but instead, was likely your body’s response to some type of restriction. Either way, don’t strive to eat mindfully 100% of the time. You’re busy! There will be times when mindful eating is impractical. When you can, set time aside and work through the exercises above!