Mindfulness is the simple moment-by-moment awareness of life, but to be mindful is not as simple as it seems. We often get caught up in the hundreds of thoughts, memories, beliefs and images that enter our mind every minute. This mental activity can easily take us out of the present moment and when our attention is elsewhere, we barely notice life passing us by.
This is particularly true of our eating. We often eat on auto-pilot, not paying great attention to the experience of eating. Often we eat whilst focusing our attention on another activity (i.e., talking to others, writing an email, surfing the web, walking), a sad by-product of the fast-paced world we live in. We may finish an entire meal without really noticing what it was we were eating, what it tasted or smelled like. One of the results of mindless eating is over consumption. As we are not paying great attention to what we are eating, we also are not paying attention to how much we are eating. Have you ever finished an entire meal, gone back for seconds and only after finishing this realised that you had completely overeaten and really your body didn’t really need that extra food?
Using everyday activities, such as eating, can be a good and fun way to practice mindfulness skills. When you engage in mindful eating, the goal is not to finish the food in front of you, but to become aware of the process of eating. That is, to become mindful of the entirety of the eating experience. Rather than rushing through the eating process as many of us do on a daily basis, the goal is to slow it down and really take in each and every detail. By really paying attention, you are likely to notice all sorts of wonderful aspects of the food you are consuming, and perhaps some of the not so nice aspects too!
The following are some examples of eating tasks you might like to try to practice your mindfulness skills:
Eating a single piece of food
Take a single piece of food, such as a jelly baby, and eat it as you would normally. Then take a second and before putting it into your mouth, really inspect the jelly baby. Examine it as if you have never seen a jelly baby before. Notice its size and colour without touching it. Silently describe this to yourself. Pick it up and roll it around in your fingers. Describe the texture to yourself. Notice any sticky residue left behind on your fingers. Smell it and try as best you can to describe this smell to yourself.
Take out another jelly baby and compare the two jelly babies. Consider how they are different and how they are the same. Then place one of the jelly babies in your mouth, roll it around inside your mouth and around on your tongue. Try as best you can not to chew it for a while. Describe to yourself what you feel and taste. When you are ready, bite into the jelly baby. Notice the sensation and taste of the jelly baby in your mouth. Chew the jelly baby, making sure you notice the sensations you become aware of as you chew. Continue to describe your experience to yourself as you swallow the jelly baby and it slides down your throat. Then eat the second jelly baby, this time even more slowly and again notice the experience. Consider how this experience was different to the first.
Eating a meal mindfully
This exercise requires you to move through your entire meal in a slow manner, taking in each and every aspect as you eat. Take your time with this exercise, noticing your experience throughout the eating process. Take your time with every action you make, and notice what your experience is as you move through the process. For example, notice what it is like to lift your knife and fork and cut your food. Describe this to yourself as you do it. Notice the different sensations of putting food in your mouth – notice the different textures, tastes, smells and the temperature of the food as you chew. Notice any thoughts or feelings that come up as you move through this process. If you become stuck on a thought, try to disengage from this thought and go back to simply observing and describing to yourself the experience of eating.