Are you prone to making quick, emotionally-charged decisions when it comes to your food choices? If you find yourself reaching for the candy bar or bag of chips after a stressful day, you’re not alone. Intentional Eating is the non-diet approach which leaves your body nourished and fulfilled, rather than frustrated and deprived.
Intentional Eating is all about cultivating mindfulness around our food choices. Rooted in the Buddhist concept of practicing mindfulness when making everyday choices, Intentional Eating is a technique used to treat many negative, food-related behaviors, such as binge-eating, anxiety, and food guilt.
At its core, Intentional Eating involves:
- Eating slowly and without distraction.
- Listening to physical cues, including hunger and fullness.
- Distinguishing between real hunger and emotional eating.
- Using all 5 senses at mealtimes.
- Overcoming negative emotions tied to food.
- Appreciating your food and body.
- Noting positive feelings tied to your body and food.
Eliminating feelings of guilt and food-related anxiety frees space for a positive, loving relationship with yourself and with the food you eat. While no one’s food choices are perfect, your relationship with food can be. No one can really expect that you’ll never eat another piece of chocolate cake, right? What you can expect of yourself is to make the intentional choice of doing so. Rather than mindlessly eating that chocolate cake in front of the tv, make it a special occasion; take your time, use a nice plate, savor each and every bite. This awareness and appreciation for the treat that you are allowing yourself will help you to feel completely satisfied, with both your choice and experience.
When we eat consciously, we are more satisfied on both a physical and emotional level. Eating slowing and mindfully triggers the release of our digestive enzymes in preparation for our meal, so that our digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the food we eat is more efficient. Suddenly our need to reach out for food to comfort our emotions starts to dissipate.
Here is a mindfulness eating exercise I have used with clients in the past. Starting with before you even take a bite of food, then while you are chewing and eating, and then even after you are done, focus on these steps.
- ASSESS yourself: how hungry are you on a scale of 1 to 10? What physical sensations do you have in your body – is your stomach making noises; are you lightheaded or not; are you only slightly hungry or not? If you notice you are eating when you aren’t even hungry, you might notice the food doesn’t even taste good when you rate it! Still you are eating – maybe as a comfort?
- Be PRESENT. Eat at your kitchen or dining table. Turn off all media and be present to the food/meal itself. Notice as you take each bite and rate how good the food tastes to you on a scale of 1 to 10. (Note: Usually it will start out around a 10 and with each bite get lower. Once you get to about a 7 it is time to stop eating that food. This is a strategy to counter overeating due to unawareness).
- SAVOR each bite. Notice everything about the food – the texture, the flavor, the smell/aroma and label those characteristics in your head. Crunchy, smooth, soft, spicy, bitter, salty, sweet, nutty… you get the idea. Be mindful of each bite and chew eat bite at least 20 times before swallowing.
- Be AWARE and if you notice you are eating without awareness, taste each bite and bring yourself back to the pleasure in your food. So many times, eating without awareness leads to overeating mindlessly.
- Don’t be a JURY and a JUDGE against yourself: Lose the negative noise in your head (the inner critic) and have gratitude for your body. Stay in the moment so that you thoroughly enjoy your food without guilt and you will be on your way to reframing your relationship with food from deprivation to celebration!