Lockdown overeating: How can mindful eating help?
If lockdown has encouraged you to eat more, there is a technique that might help you to address it. Mindful eating is the practice of mindfulness around food and may lead to a greater appreciation of life.
How stressed, distracted or busy are you are in life? This may be one of your reasons for overeating. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. So, in many of our lives, our brains can’t cope because we are trying to focus on too much at once.
It’s also our default to be on mindless rumination. Harvard Research says that we spend 50% of time lost in thought. It went on to assert that the more time we spend in our heads, the more anxious and unhappy we become.
What is mindful eating?
The idea behind mindful eating is to learn to trust that we have inner wisdom that we’ve learned to ignore. We are trying to uncover that again, trusting that we have the answers.
The body is key
The idea with mindful eating is to learn your body cues for food. To replace habitual ways of eating with recognising when you are actually hungry or full. So that you can build your response to your body cues.
The basic practice of mindful eating is to:
- breathe and check for hunger and satiety
- slow down
- taste the food
- breathe between bites
- put utensils down, especially while talking
- chew thoroughly
It is suggested that dieting is unhelpful to mindful eating because it denies your internal guidance. You can’t follow your sense of what you need if you are restricting. It is also suggested that you stop weighing when you try this, for the same reason. With mindful eating, you are learning to rely on your internal sense of what’s right for you, rather than external.
“An average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
The practise of mindful eating is to only eat when you are hungry. To take time and attention with eating. How often are you doing something else when you eat?
As much as you can be starting to practice eating mindfully, you can also watch when you eat mindlessly. You may start to notice that some people attack food!
Lynn Rossy says,“Mindfulness teaches us to befriend the moment and ourselves exactly as we are.”
The focus is to learn to be present with food, with curiosity. By doing this, you may notice flavours more. The food you usually eat may also start to taste differently. It might taste too strong or artificial. With mindful eating, you learn not to eat what you don’t like, and instead to savour what you do eat.
You are encouraged to have a curious acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and circumstances. Your job is to keep bringing your intention back to what you are feeling, thinking, smelling or touching right now. To become aware of your body sensations.
When eating without paying attention, you may put things into your body that it would normally reject if you were more aware, you may enjoy the food less, and you may overeat.
With mindful eating, you are encouraged to grant yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever your body wants. Just as long as you pay attention to it.
You can also start to ask whether It's what you want or whether you're responding to habit, emotion, or just because the food is there. Then you can ask, ‘’What am I really hungry for?”
A mindful eating exercise
Next time you prepare food or eat, try noticing:
- The colours. Are they appealing?
- What aromas can you smell?
- Where is the food from?
- Is it natural or processed?
- Is this the food you really want?
- Discern if your first impressions align with the experience of it.
- Do you assess your food, or throw it in?
- You can also tune into how it looks, feels, and smells to see if it seems healthy?
These steps may lead you to choose differently or to choose food that your body responds better to. If you slow down and observe yourself with interest and investigation, you might eventually find that you’re not as interested or hungry as you think.
I will end on a wonderful story, where mindful eating actually led to survival. Leno Stancheck tells us of his father in prison camps in World War Two. His Father, (being on a starvation diet), decided to keep food in his mouth for as long as possible and to chew it as many times as he could.
According to Stancheck, his Father felt more energy when he chewed 150 times. The more he chewed, the more energy he had. By the end of his time in the prison camp, Stancheck’s Father was one of only three people who survived. The other two were also people who had joined him in chewing thoroughly.
That’s a good advert for being present! It’s not easy. But, it is worth it.
Some ideas here were inspired by The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution by Lynn Rossy PhD.
For more help with understanding your eating, visit my profile to read my other articles or listen to my podcast, Binge and Overeating Recovery.