Troubleshooting Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating Takes Patience

Be patient.  Developing a mindful eating practice, like any new skill or habit, takes time, repetition, and practice. Don’t be discouraged if mindful eating doesn’t come naturally or as quickly as you’d hoped. Keep it up, even if for only 30 seconds at a time, and you will eventually notice changes. Be kind to yourself as you learn something new and acknowledge your efforts, even if they don’t feel successful.

A core part of the practice of mindfulness is sitting with and acknowledging whatever struggles arise without getting tangled up in them.

Notice the freedom in acknowledging “This is incredibly challenging for me, and I am still showing up” versus “I suck at this, this is too hard, I can’t do this, I am a failure.” In the first instance, you acknowledge the difficulty and make room to experience all the feelings that go along with the challenge even if they are uncomfortable. This stance allows you increased choice in how you react to what your mind is telling you, giving you more space to choose how you respond. In the second scenario, you get pulled into the struggle, lose perspective and end up trying hard to fight your way out which limits your ability to respond with a different behavior.

When I work with clients who are beginning to practice mindful eating, two common roadblocks get in the way, dedicating the time to sit (yes not stand, eat on the go, or multi-tasking) and eat and navigating the constant stream of thoughts created by our mind.

Not Having Enough Time or Distraction Free Space

Ask yourself what is getting in your way? How might you carve out two minutes of your day dedicated to eating mindfully? Maybe you need to go to bed a bit earlier so you can wake up in time to sit down to breakfast. Perhaps you feel guilty for taking time for yourself and feel pressure to work while you eat lunch or a snack. Are you willing to give yourself permission to set aside a few minutes for you?

If you are not able to sit down and be present to at least one meal and snack a day and due to your schedule, ask yourself if you may need to give up some commitments or set stronger boundaries.

If you have a hectic schedule or busy environment where finding time and a quiet space is difficult, you can still practice mindful eating; it just may take a bit more work and creativity. Perhaps you need to talk to your family and express your need for a few minutes of quiet around meal time (yes this may sound impossible to some of you with little ones or teenagers). How else could you strategize with your family to get your needs met, and in the process help introduce family members to mindful eating as well? Could you add a minute of mindful eating as a calming ritual to begin you meal together?

If meal time is chaotic for you at home, establishing new meal habits and routines more conducive to mindful eating may take some time to convince other family members of the value. Perhaps you need to set a regular meal time and create an expectation that everyone will eat a family meal together at the table, not on the living room couch or connected to their devices. Disable the wifi if you have to.

If your work or school environment is chaotic, try to carve out time and space where you can be present with yourself. Again, because mindful eating is not a valued practice in many contexts and taking time for yourself may be frowned upon in a work environment where business and multitasking are a badge of honor. In both cases, be prepared to be persistent and assertive in getting your needs met. Are you willing to step away from being “busy” to do what matters to you?

You don’t have to eat alone to practice mindful eating. You can teach friends and family your skills, intentionally start each meal with a few moments of mindful eating with everyone, or just carve out time for yourself to be mindful when eating with others. Part of the enjoyment of eating is being with a community and fostering relationships.

Not having enough time or space often points to an underlying struggle of setting up boundaries and making sure you honor and value your needs. If you truly don’t have enough time, is there something you might be willing to let go of to make self-care a priority? Nourishing yourself by giving yourself time is one of the greatest gifts of self-care.

Roller Coaster of Thoughts

For most people (myself included), when they sit down in silence for a few moments and try to be present, their mind takes them on a roller coaster of cognitions.

Sometimes the thoughts are helpful, but often they are distracting, negative, or bring awareness to perceived faults and anxieties. If you find yourself getting carried off by your mind, take a couple of deep breaths to bring yourself back to the sensation of breathing. If the thought pops up again practice adding something like “I notice I’m having the thought that…” before the thought. Adding this non-judgmental statement before the thought may create some distance from the mind chatter while allowing yourself to remain aware of what is happening in your mind, senses, and environment.

If you find yourself having difficulty staying present use your breath to bring you back to the task at hand. You can also use the sensation of your feet firmly planted on the ground to re-establish your awareness.

You may find yourself getting distracted more than staying present; that is normal. Kindly continue to bring yourself back to your breath or the sensation of your feet and try again. And again and again. Each time your mind takes you down a rabbit hole, gently bring yourself back to the task at hand. There is no magical cure to stop the flow of thoughts from your mind; that is what our minds are designed to do! The time-honored practice of connecting to your breath and body through meditation or mindfulness, however, will help you observe these thoughts from a more objective perspective.

If You Struggle with Eating Rapidly or Bingeing

If you find yourself struggling with rapidly consuming specific food categories or types of food (for example chips, ice cream, or cookies) without much thought, practice mindful eating with these foods. Sit down, plate your food, slow down, breath, connect.

Instead of eating out of the box or bag, portion out what you would like to eat and sit down without distraction. Slowing down and paying attention to how you eat these foods will help you develop a more balanced relationship with these foods, and perhaps provide insight as to why these foods have more of a pull than others. The goal here is to develop the connection to your hunger, satiety, and feelings of nourishment, not to control quantities or types of foods.

“We human beings have many feelings, both positive and negative. Some people tend to eat less. Some people eat when they are sad or upset as a way of eating their feelings, hoping the feelings will go away. Food becomes a craving then, rather than a source of nourishment. If we don’t attempt to look deeply to understand our craving, it will grow. When we take the time to take care of our emotions with mindfulness and compassion, then we can just eat. We can enjoy our food without craving and develop a healthy and positive relationship to eating.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Engaging in mindful eating is an ever evolving process and practice. Approach the practice as a journey rather than a destination with many twist and turns, peaks and valleys. Some days you may have a clear and expansive perspective, other days it may be rainy and overcast. Most of all be kind and gentle with yourself along the way.

If you find yourself getting stuck with mindful eating contact me here.