How to eat mindfully at your desk
Words / Emma Nuttall (Higginson)
Again, and again fad diets have been proved unsuccessful. Diets focus on calorie restriction and the elimination of certain foods and generally do not take into account the dieter’s ability to exercise self-control or regulate their eating behaviour. Many popular weight-loss programs offer coaching and support networks; however, once the goal weight has been achieved and the program concludes, the individual must continue unsupported.
Cultivating self-compassion and applying mindfulness to your eating habits can provide a much greater chance of maintaining a healthy weight.
Mindfulness involves increasing awareness of the current moment and observing without judgment. When applied to eating, it involves paying attention to what you eat and how you eat it. In essence, mindful eating means being aware of both your inner cues and outer environment and how they influence food choices and consumption.
Our fast-paced lifestyles and work schedule have an impact on the way we approach food. Emotions also play a large role in influencing our eating habits. According to Susan Albers, PsyD, author of Eat, Drink and Be Mindful, “The majority of food decisions people make have nothing to do with hunger. They have to do with stress, anxiety, sadness or frustration”.
What is mindless eating?
Eating mindfully is not about restrictions or calorie counting. As Albers writes, “Mindful eating is eating more consciously so you can eat just enough to be satisfied — without eating too much or too little.” It allows you to eat in a sensible way so you can still enjoy the foods that you love.
When eating mindfully, you pay attention to the physical aspects of eating such as the smell, taste, texture and appearance of your meal. You focus your awareness on bodily sensations during and after eating. This allows you to become more in tune with your body and recognise hunger cues and feelings of satiety.
By acknowledging your thoughts and emotions around food as they arise and observing them rather than fighting them, you become more aware of your food choices, your eating habits and ultimately what triggers them.
The ability to tell the difference between cravings and genuine hunger pains, as well as to recognise and understand emotional triggers that cause you to overeat, allows you to restore your body’s natural ability to regulate your eating behaviour.
How to practice mindful eating
Set up your meal in a quiet environment. Never stand up while eating and try not to read a magazine or look at your phone. Be aware of what you are doing. Sit down and take three large belly breaths before you start. Enjoy the colours, textures and aromas of the food. Some people like to practise gratitude for what is on their plate, which gives them the opportunity not only to be thankful but to pause before getting lost in a meal.
Chew thoroughly and put your cutlery down between bites. If your thoughts pull your awareness away from your meal, notice whether the pace of your eating quickens. Often half a sandwich disappears without us even being aware we are devouring it. Take a moment to bring your awareness back to the plate in front of you. Once again, take a few deep breaths and, as you resume eating, tune back into your senses.
The benefits of mindful eating
When we eat mindfully, not only do we take the time to truly enjoy our food, we also feel more satisfied as our mind and body are registering what we are eating. Eating mindfully encourages us to eat more slowly, which offers a host of health benefits.
Digestion starts in the mouth and, by chewing our food thoroughly to break it down, we promote better digestion and optimum absorption of nutrients. It has been proved that when we eat more slowly we consume fewer calories, as the brain has time to register when we are full. Eating quickly can allow more air to enter your stomach, resulting in gas and bloating.
Mindfulness and self-compassion are powerful tools in managing your weight. The process of using them is not a quick one. It involves listening to your body, making sensible choices and not being enticed by external messages or convenient and often unhealthy options. Your ability to practise mindfulness and self-compassion improves over time. The more you practise, the greater your chance of success until mindful eating and self-compassion have become a way of life.