Mindful eating: 6 tips to reduce stress around meal times
Co-written by Serena Hodge
What is Mindful Eating?
The practise of mindful eating is about being fully present and bringing your attention to your environment, thoughts and feelings when you sit down to eat a meal. In doing this you can remove the anxiety, guilt and distractions surrounding meal times. This allows you to fully enjoy and appreciate every bite of the food on your plate without fear or judgment of yourself.
Below I will share with you 6 ways you can begin to practise eating mindfully based on guidelines set by Eating Disorders Victoria (2016) as well as my own personal experience.
1. Give yourself permission to enjoy food without guilt. This is one of the most important first steps when learning how to eat mindfully. This is about removing restrictions and giving yourself permission to appreciate the pleasurable experience that food can bring. In doing this, you can shift your focus to eating foods that make you feel good. Remember that this can include eating your favourite foods. So next time you go to snack on your favourite chocolate bar or a dessert, start by telling yourself that it is okay to enjoy the experience.
2. Consider how you are feeling. Before you sit down to eat your meal, think about how you are feeling in the moment. Are you feeling stressed, or calm and relaxed? Does your body feel tense and uneasy? This is important as your thoughts and the way your body feels can increase your self-awareness and give you a good indication of your attitude towards eating.
3. Deep breathing. As you sit down in front of your meal, take a moment to take a few slow, deep breaths. You can do this by closing your eyes, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This is a good way to help you relax and bring you into the present moment.
4. Chew slowly. As you begin to eat your meal, encourage yourself to eat slowly. This can help you slow down and relax while allowing you to savour and appreciate the flavours of the food.
5. Remove distractions. Many of us are surrounded with a number of distractions during meal times. This can include things such as watching T.V., scrolling through social media, talking on the phone or being on the move and not taking the time to sit down. Next time you are about to eat your meal, take a moment to switch off and focus on the task of eating. Notice if this makes you feel more present and aware of the food you are eating.
6. Eat with company. Surrounding yourself with the company of your family and friends when you eat can be a great way to shift your focus away from feelings of fear and anxiety when eating meals. When we realise that food and meal times are a time that can be celebrated and enjoyed, we can recognise that we have begun to take the first steps towards creating a positive relationship with food, free of fear and judgement.
Remember that this is a guide to support you on your journey to becoming a mindful eater. This is not an absolute must to follow at every meal or snack time as lets be real, life doesn’t always allow for that. But the more we can move towards a more mindful direction and create more presence around our meal occasion, the more positive it will be for our physical and mental health.
Please note, that mindful eating and intuitive eating may not be appropriate for someone living with an active eating disorder. Please reach out to an Accredited Practising Dietitian to understand if this approach to eating is right for you.