Eating mindfully through counselling
Eating mindfully is eating with intention and attention. Eating mindlessly is eating with no thought to its purpose nor attention to the experience.
Have you ever wondered why eating dominates so much of our waking thoughts? The answer might be perfectly clear, food gives a lot of pleasure - or so we tell ourselves. We forget the guilt, feelings of greed, disappointment, frustration, self-loathing that follows some or our eating experiences.
In counselling it can be purposeful to explore the intent of our eating, whilst simultaneously getting into the habit of eating mindfully. Counselling can help bring into awareness the emotions that eating soothes or evokes. It can also challenge perceptions about body size and image whilst building self-esteem, and a desire to nurture and love yourself; mind and body.
Food provides us with nourishment and pleasure.
When eating it is important to be aware of the intention behind the eating behaviour-nourishment or pleasure. Those who regularly eat without the immediate need to provide nourishment for the body, or who consistently override the physiological need to eat, without understanding why, are at a high risk of poor nutrition. Those who eat due to obligation or habit, sacrifice the enjoyment of the experience of taste, smell and texture of their food.
Why do we override our fullness and hunger signals?
There are lots of answers-social, cultural, historical, learnt, advertising, genetics, nature, education, upbringing, availability, dietary regimens… each of us will have our own set of experiences that will influence our eating habits and why we might eat with limited control.
Some of these factors are so deep rooted that we are not aware of how they influence our choice of food on a day-to-day basis. The meals we cook and the food we buy. Of all the foods in your local supermarket how many have you ever bought - 20%? More? Or less? The choices we make about food are fairly entrenched.
Why does food satisfy emotions?
Take a step back and it is easy to see that food is associated with reward, and is part of social interactions, as a child it is linked to comfort and warmth from our caregivers. It can also be associated with social positioning, wealth and poverty. It has a direct link to body size and therefore to self-esteem. Eating has many facets a large number of which appear to be out of awareness and therefore not considered when we make food related decisions.
The idea of bringing intention or mindfulness into a daily habit such as eating is to bring to our awareness the choices and experiences we have on a moment to moment basis. This increases our understanding of the factors that impact on our eating behaviours, including the selection of food we buy and eat, the times we eat and the moods that trigger eating. It then gives us an opportunity to make different choices.
Eating mindfully can be done as part of developing a mindful practice, bringing attention to the current moment.
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About Emma Dunn
Emma Dunn is a psychotherapist in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, and works with issues of anxiety, self-esteem and depression. She is a qualified dietitian. She will qualify as a Mindfulness instructor in August 2016.