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Mindful eating means building awareness about what we put into our bodies and why.
This awareness can be divided into three parts.
People who are familiar with yoga and meditation will already have a strong grasp on the things we are looking to build awareness for when creating a mindful eating practice.
1. Space between thought and action.
When we meditate, it doesn’t mean that our brain is completely silent or in nirvana as soon as we sit on the cushion. Sometimes, our mind is on extra fast when we sit down to meditate. The practice comes, and becomes stronger, when we can sit on the sidelines and watch the thoughts come in and come out. We expand the time between when we have the thought and when we follow through with the thought. We work on the amount of time we are on the sidelines before we go back to playing the game.
With mindful eating, this could look like feeling the urge to eat but waiting 5 or 10 minutes before taking a bite. Or even less than that, it can be counting the chews between bites or taking a deep breath before indulging.
2. Choosing between compassionate acceptance or discipline.
In yoga, every time we step on our mat, we decide how to best care for ourselves. We are given options to take our practice deeper, to make modifications, or to add or refuse vinyasas. We learn when our body needs discipline and will feel better from hard work, (note: not as punishment, but from a place of compassion) as well as when we need to take it easy to reap the benefits from our practice (note: while not underestimating our abilities).
With mindful eating, the decision lies in keeping discipline, such as the planned meal, the healthier option for our bodies and activity level that day, or in compassionate acceptance, which would be something like allowing the cookie or less healthy meal, permitting yourself whatever you need to take care of yourself.
3. Finding balance.
In yoga, we learn in balance poses and inversions that even when there seems to be strong, unwavering balance, there is actually constant adjustment happening. In a handstand, there is always movement; even when it looks still, there’s always finger pressure on the floor, engaging the core, pointing the toes—tiny, infinitesimal movements are always occurring to stay upside down.
It’s the same with mindful eating. There is no such thing as the “perfect” diet or relationship with food. We all adjust our meals, weeks, and dietary theories with whatever life is currently throwing at us.
Realizing how to find balance without overcompensating is where the practice lies.
An example of this would be eating way too much for a birthday and overcompensating by restricting yourself the next few days. That is like feeling yourself tip a little too far backward in handstand and instead of making micro-adjustments, flailing forward, causing yourself to completely exit the pose.
Learning how to eat mindfully and with compassion toward ourselves is an imperfect but oh-so-human endeavor in which we will all fail time and time again. Like any other mindfulness tool, this is an exercise that invites you to practice starting again.
Anytime you “get lost,” it’s not a failure, it’s a signal. Start again. And again.
Mindful eating is a subtle but empowering practice that you can do anywhere and at any time. So go ahead, start again.