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The extraordinary power of mindful eating

Eating food is one of life’s great pleasures. But there are so many reasons we turn to food which have nothing at all to do with feeling hungry. This may be out of habit, boredom, or to satisfy an emotional need. It’s so easy to slip into a pattern of ordering a massive takeaway just because it’s Friday night or eating a family pack of chocolates at the end of a stressful day. What could be more comforting than dunking an entire pack of biscuits into tea on a rainy morning? Are these 21st-century eating habits necessarily a bad thing? Before I started eating more mindfully, the weighing scales and my aching back seem to suggest they might be.

So we’re going to be taking a look at whether mindfulness really can be used to change our approach to unhealthy eating habits. Wouldn’t you love to re-assert control over when and what you eat and to make healthier choices? If the answer is yes, read on. If the answer is no, then maybe just have a go at this fun mindful eating exercise.

An exercise in mindful eating

Take a small piece of food. It can be anything you like, provided it’s something which can be held in the hand. I will be using a slice of apple. I don’t particularly like apples and I find that this exercise can be more powerful with foods we don’t usually enjoy.

1. Take a good look at the piece of food. A really good look. Notice the variations in colour, patterns and the way light bounces off the surface of the food. Notice its shape and all the tiny imperfections.

2. Now pick up the food. How does it feel? Is it colder or warmer than your fingers? How does it feel when you squeeze it? Maybe bring it close to your ear and see whether it makes any noise when your thumb puts a little pressure on it.

3. Does it give off any scent? Try not to judge whether you like the smell or not but focus for a moment on how your body reacts to the aroma.

4. Now, without biting, lick the piece of food. Notice any taste and how your senses react.

5. Take a bite and start to chew. Focus your attention on the sound of chewing and how your entire digestive system starts doing its thing. Chew slowly. Maybe count the number of bites you can take before the urge to swallow becomes overwhelming.

6. Finally swallow the food. Take a pause to fully engage your five senses before taking the next bite.

For me, I can honestly say, that was the most enjoyable apple I’ve ever eaten.

So how will mindful eating help with healthy eating patterns?

The more regularly you do this kind of exercise, the more likely you’ll be to eat for the right reasons and make healthier choices. It’s impossible to eat this way all the time. Don’t be hard on yourself for not eating mindfully. Nobody can do this all the time. Just try, over weeks or months, to practice this exercise when you remember.

Here are three small tips for developing more mindful eating:

1. Keeping a food diary really can help. Maybe think about whether, over time, you can try healthier substitutions. You might even like to write in the diary about how you were feeling when you made unhealthy choices.

2. Try to avoid mindless eating in front of the TV. Think about other ways you can meet your emotional needs while watching. Stroking a pet or holding a warm, aromatic cup of tea or a hot water bottle may work.

3. Avoid doing a food shop when hungry, stressed, or otherwise upset. These are the times when we are most likely to buy unhealthy comfort food.

4. Challenge yourself to change maybe just one bad eating habit. Maybe stop eating by 7 pm, or try eating some fruit mid-morning.

Most importantly, remember that this exercise isn’t about failure or success.

It’s not about losing weight or looking better.

It’s simply about noticing what you’re eating and enjoying it more. Any benefits are a side-effect of this new approach to delicious food

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