HEALTHY LIVING
07/01/2013 08:12 am ET

Meditation In Action: 10 Tips For Mindful Eating (PHOTOS)

How often do you actually taste the food you eat? Most people tend to acknowledge the first few bites, just to ensure they’re eating what they think they’re supposed to be, and then slip into a semi-conscious state of eating. As it’s not particularly complicated to move a fork back and forwards from a plate, or a sandwich from hand to mouth, we’ve developed an ability to carry out the task without even thinking about it, in much the same way we have with walking.

What would it be like to be fully present for every mouthful you eat? What might your experience of food be if you tasted every flavor and if your meal or snack was actually an opportunity to connect with the moment? What would it be like to have a healthy relationship with food, to give up any feelings of guilt, anxiety and craving, and instead regain that sense of healthy appreciation and enjoyment that all good food deserves? And what if that same approach showed you how to make genuinely sustainable change, toward better physical health and a body that made you feel confident and comfortable? Below is a practical exercise from the mindfulness experts at Headspace to introduce you to the multi-faceted benefits of mindful eating.

1. Sit down at a table, preferably alone, and free from any external distractions. Don’t worry too much if there are sounds that are out of your control; you can build these into the exercise. Before you even pick up the food to eat, take a couple of deep breaths –- in through the nose and out through the mouth -– to allow the body and mind to settle.

2. Next, take a moment to appreciate the food. Where has it come from? What country? Was it grown or was it manufactured? Try to imagine the different ingredients in their natural growing environment and even the types of people who would have been looking after the crops or animals.

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3. As you’re doing this, notice if there is any sense of impatience in the mind, of wanting to get on and eat the food. Perhaps you’re thinking of all the things you need to do. Whatever the reaction, it’s most likely just conditioned behavior -- a habit -- but one that you may find surprisingly strong. Regardless of the feeling, take at least a minute to reflect in this way.

4. Next, without going on some kind of guilt trip, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you actually have food on your plate. We’re so familiar with this situation that we forget that for many people in the world, this just isn’t the case. A deep sense of appreciation and gratitude is at the heart of any stable mindfulness practice.

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5. If it’s a food you’re going to eat with your hands, notice the texture as you pick it up, the temperature, and perhaps the color(s). If you're eating from a plate with a knife and fork, notice instead the texture and temperature of the cutlery as you move it toward the food, but still take the time to notice the colors on the plate. You might find it more effective to hold your fork or spoon in your non-dominant hand: This will prevent you from going too quickly.

6. As you move the food toward your mouth, shift the focus away from the hands and more toward the eyes, nose and mouth. How does the food smell? What does it look like up close? And, as you put it in your mouth, what is the taste, the texture, the temperature? You don’t need to ‘do’ anything. You’re simply observing the different bodily senses at work.

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7. In addition to the physical senses, notice how the mind responds to the food. For example, is the food met with pleasure or displeasure in your mind? Is there acceptance of the food as it is, or maybe some resistance to certain aspects of it? Perhaps it’s too hot, too cold, too sweet or too sour. Notice how the mind rushes to judge the food and to make comparisons with previous meals or other possibilities. Whatever you do, take the time to chew the food fully. Not only is this a healthier way of eating, but it will allow you the time to taste and appreciate all the different flavors.

8. Once you’ve taken a few mouthfuls, you may find that the mind starts to get bored of the exercise and will wander off into thinking about something else. This is quite normal and nothing to worry about. So, in just the same way as before, as soon as you realize it’s wandered off, gently bring your attention back to the process of eating, and the different tastes, smells, textures, sights and sounds.

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9. As you continue to eat your meal in this way, you can start to notice whether there’s a strong habitual urge to eat more quickly (perhaps to move closer to dessert!). Or maybe there are feelings of unease about what you’re eating. If it’s an especially big meal, you may even notice the desire to consume gradually decreasing as the stomach becomes full and you become more aware of these sensations. As much as possible, simply observe these different thoughts and feelings (acting on them when appropriate) and, if you can, notice how the breath appears. The breath may give you some indication of how comfortable or uncomfortable the process of eating is for you.

10. Before jumping up to get on with the next thing you have planned, try staying seated for a moment or two. This is an opportunity for you to take that sense of being present to the next part of your day. It’s an opportunity to realize that the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that were present before eating have now moved on. In time, this awareness of change can help the mind to feel more spacious and at ease.

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Want more tips on how to make meditation part of your day? Headspace is meditation made simple, accessible and relevant to your everyday life. Sign up for the free Take10 program to get the basics just right with guided audio programs and support to get your Headspace, anytime, anywhere on the Headspace app.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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