Have you ever been asked to remember what you ate at last night’s dinner?
This is usually one of the first things I get clients to do. Often people struggle to recall what they ate at breakfast, let alone what they ate for dinner the night before.
Lack of awareness is a tell tale sign that there is a problem with food choice and eating behaviour. If you aren’t aware of what you’re eating how are you meant to change it?
In short, without awareness you can’t change.
Being aware of what, how and when you eat will allow you to make better decisions. Unfortunately, in the food environment in which we currently live you can’t just eat whatever is available and expect everything to be ok.
How to be food mindful
I’d preface by saying awareness is the same as being mindful. The term mindfulness just means that you are aware of everything you are doing and not living your day on autopilot.
I use the term “autopilot” to mean when your body and mind is acting in the realm of learnt behaviours and routines. It’s done subconsciously, so you don’t waste mental energy thinking about the menial tasks you have to do day-to-day.
Think about it this way- Have you ever got in your car, drove to your destination and when you got there you don’t even know how you got there? You might have been daydreaming, ultimately you weren’t entirely conscious of the small details of driving or even the route you took to get there.
The problem with acting in autopilot mode is when you have developed unhelpful routines and behaviours. The ability to go into autopilot means that slipping back into old patterns is easy. Old behaviours feel easy and natural.
To change behaviour and eating patterns you have to become aware of your learnt routines and make a conscious effect in the moment to do things differently.
Create a mindfulness trigger
A trigger is an event, place or thing that is there to prompt you to be aware. For example a useful trigger could be when you enter the kitchen or open the fridge door.
The trigger is there to remind you to pause and think about what you are doing. Creating a moment in that point in time will give you space to run through a series of questions in your mind. Start by checking in with your body and find out what you need. Are you hungry, bored or stressed? What are you searching for; a snack, a meal or a drink? How much food are you planning to consume and why?
Creating a delay between the thought of eating and actually eating will allow you to break down old routines, reflex responses and behaviours. Hopefully, by the time you have finished ‘pausing’ you will be ready to make a more informed food choices. You might even be able to walk away from the fridge empty handed.
Mindful eating involves taking the time to sit and eat your food without any distractions. This means sitting at the table to eat with the TV turned off, phone out of reach and zero reading material. Focus on taking smaller mouthfuls and chewing each mouthful really well.
You are meant to chew each mouthful at least 10-15 times. Have you ever counted how many times you chew your food? Ultimately, the slower you eat, the less likely you will overeat because you will be able to recognise how full you feel. The beauty of feeling satisfied or full earlier is that it can circumvent overeating. You can learn step away from the table earlier before you over do it.
Whilst you are slowly chewing each mouthful pay attention to the taste, texture, smell and mouthfeel of the food you are eating. Part of mindful eating is getting more enjoyment out of your food with less. Think of it a bit like food minimalism, enjoy more with less!
Go one step further and keep a food diary
A food diary helps to keep you accountable to yourself by creating awareness of eating behaviours and food choice. It helps you to pin point reoccurring negative triggers to eating.
If anything has taught me over the years is when clients can’t remember what they ate it’s a big problem. It means there’s a lot of autopilot eating going on, which will make changing your diet really hard. Change is a little easier, when you are mindful.