Sufferers of binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa often feel out of control during an episode. They might consume very large quantities of food without enjoying it or tasting it, but feel unable to stop.
Even those who do not suffer from binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa may experience this phenomenon occasionally. Life is busy, and oftentimes, people consume food absentmindedly-- in front of the television; while checking emails; or out of boredom. It seems that, more and more these days, no one has time to sit down and enjoy a meal. When was the last time you savored the food you were eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of devoting one’s entire attention to the experience of eating, noticing the tastes, textures, smells, colors, and look of the food, as well as tuning into how one’s body feels while consuming it. Is the food nourishing? What does it feel like to feel half-full? All the way full? Psychology Today describes that in mindful eating, “we also pay attention to the mind. While avoiding judgement or criticism, we watch when the mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. We watch the impulses that arise after we've taken a few sips or bites: to grab a book, to turn on the TV, to call someone on our cell phone, or to do web search on some interesting subject. We notice the impulse and return to just eating.”
The following exercise in mindful eating may be helpful for eating disorder sufferers and distracted eaters alike. This exercise is taken from “The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress” by John Teasdale, Mark Williams, and Zindel Segal. I highly recommend this workbook to anyone interested in learning the benefits of mindfulness-- this isn’t the first time I’ve written a blog post about something I found in the book, and it won’t be the last!
Mindfully Eating a Raisin:
You will need a few raisins for this experiment in mindfulness. Settle yourself comfortably in a place where there is a good light and you will not be disturbed. Then guide yourself slowly through the practice. Take your time, allowing long pauses between instructions, giving at least 10 minutes to the whole meditation.
- When you are ready, take a raisin and place it in the palm of your hand… bring your attention to the experience of seeing what is on your hand… Exploring the raisin with your eyes, as if you had never seen such an object before… bringing a wholehearted attention as you look closely and carefully…
- Noticing perhaps how the light hits the raisin… any shadows, ridges, or valleys on its surface… parts that are dull or glossy… Allow yourself to explore it fully with your eyes… perhaps picking up the raisin with your thumb and forefinger and turning it over to explore it from all sides…
- If, while you are doing this, any thoughts come to mind such as “What a strange thing I am doing” or “What’s the point of this?”, then just note them as thoughts and, as best you can, bring your awareness back to the experience of seeing the raisin.
- And now, as you hold the raisin, bringing your full attention to the experience of touch, feeling the raisin… Noticing any stickiness, or smoothness… if you choose, gently rolling the object between the thumb and finger, noticing parts that are soft, yielding, or more dense, sharp even… Whatever you find, being aware of your experience, right now, in this moment.
- And when you’re ready, bringing the raisin up to your nose and holding it there, inhaling and being aware of what you notice… noticing any perfume or aroma that might be present or, if nothing is there, noticing this as well… aware of any changes you experience over time.
- And now slowly taking the raisin and preparing to place it in your mouth, aware of the changing pattern of sensations in your arm as it moves… noticing how your hand and arm know exactly where to put the raisin, perhaps closing your eyes at this point if you choose.
- Placing the raisin in your mouth, noticing if the tongue comes out to meet it… putting it on your tongue and allowing it to be in your mouth, but not chewing… perhaps noticing any changes inside your mouth… exploring the sensations of having the raisin on your tongue, turning the raisin over… exploring its surface-- feeling the ridges and hollows… perhaps moving it around your mouth, to the sides… to the roof of the mouth.
- And when you’re ready, moving the raisin between your teeth, bite down on it… and very, slowly, start to chew… Noticing what is happening in your mouth… any taste sensations released by the chewing… taking your time… noticing any changes in your mouth and any changes in the consistency of the raisin… feeling the toughness of the skin… the softness of the flesh.
- Then, when you feel ready to swallow, seeing if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced with awareness before actually going ahead and swallowing it.
- Finally, following any sensations of swallowing, sensing the raisin moving down to your stomach and noticing the after-effects of having had the raisin in your mouth.
- Now, allowing your eyes to open if they have been closed, and taking in the room again.
What was your experience like? Maybe it felt a bit silly. Even so, you probably had an entirely different experience than you usually have while eating. Bringing mindfulness to the everyday, mundane activity of food consumption helps us check in with ourselves-- how are we feeling? How much, or how little, food do we need in this moment? When we are mindful, we are in control. We can see our thoughts and feelings more clearly, and act upon them accordingly. According to Teasdale, Williams, and Segal, when we are not mindful, “the mind has its own agenda. On automatic pilot, old habits of mind set the agenda and can take us places we might not choose to go.”
Eating mindfully does not necessarily mean that you have to eat more slowly. It simply means that you pay attention to what you’re eating, how you’re feeling, and what you’re thinking. This probably isn’t possible for every meal we eat, but implementing mindfulness into our mealtime routines occasionally can help us feel more in tune with our bodies and more in control over our actions.
Stay healthy, Chaps!
--Kirsten Dalquist, MSSW Intern