Everyday Mindfulness

Part 3: Mindful Eating

So you’ve read our piece on The Raisin Exercise.

And you may have begun to glean a clue as to how Mindfulness alludes to all our behaviours in life.

And that this includes our behaviour on not just what we choose to eat, but HOW we eat food WHEN we eat it.

Which brings us to Mindful Eating.

On the one hand, Mindful Eating is the most important story of our lives.

We eat every day. Every day that we exist, we will hopefully have the opportunity to consume some sustenance.

But for many of us, how we eat may have been shaped by our circumstances, environments and lifestyles. Our behaviour at meal times has changed.

But on the other hand, Mindful Eating is probably the simplest, most natural mindfulness practise that you can achieve.

It should be so natural, that you could say that it should be the least important story of our lives. Because we don’t need to think about it at all.

But along the way, because of those circumstances, environments and lifestyles, we have forgotten some of those rules.

And have formed poor routines leading to bad habits.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

In fact, Mindful Eating is incredibly easy to get to grips with because many of us have already been taught the key fundamental aspects of it as children or at school.

It just seems unfashionable these days to mention it and it is surprising to us that many articles on Mindful Eating don’t even mention them.

It’s almost as if Mindful Eating suddenly arrived on the horizon.

Yes, there is Mindful Awareness involved but many of the key points of Mindful Eating are actions we take.

Those actions make up our behaviour at mealtimes. The good behaviours were taught to us as:

“Dinner Etiquette or Table Manners”

“Please don’t scoff your food like that. It took time to prepare. Remember; take small mouthfuls, and chew properly . And please sit properly when eating.”

But like in the Raisin Exercise, the fundamental rule is bringing awareness to the table and to how we eat.

And so yet again, we cannot stress this enough. Because Mindful eating really is about pausing, revisiting old lessons and ….

Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness.

First, a small bit of the science explained in the simplest of ways.

We all need fuel (food) to keep our engines running.

When we are getting low on fuel, our blood sugar levels begin to drop.

Our stomachs recognise this and begin to produce a hormone called Ghrelin. Ghrelin sends a signal to the brain which stimulates our appetite i.e. “Oooh, I am hungry” Ghrelin is sometimes called the “Hunger Hormone” because of this signal it sends.

As we then eat and refuel, and cells in the small intestine begin to produce Leptin. Leptin sends a signal to our brains that we are now refuelled and we can stop eating.

The problem is, and most scientists seem to agree, it takes about 20 mins for the brain to get the signal.

This means we continue eating even though the body is saying “Woah, enough already!”

So eating mindfully (and following some of the rules of dinner etiquette) can help us slow down our eating and give those signals enough time to reach our brain and for us to think “Hmmm, ok. Yea, I think I’ve had enough ‘cos I am no longer hungry”

The extras we should bring our awareness to

How do you feel when you food shop or sit down for a meal?

When you arrive at a supermarket, are you rushed, late, anxious or just cheesed off because you would rather be somewhere else?

That's ok. It really is.

Life is not perfect and we often have to squeeze our shopping into a very stressful or hectic day.

BUT try this. Before you enter a supermarket all rushed, annoyed or flustered. Stop for just a moment. It could be in the car. It could even be just before you enter the store.

Stop. Breathe slowly for a few moments. Tell yourself how important what you are about to do is.

That you kindly accept that you may be hungry, tired, upset, agitated or even angry (the last one, Hungry + Angry = Hangry is common). Kindly remind yourself that what you do now may shape your meals for the next few days.

Remind yourself that you won’t always feel like this. And that this moment will pass BUT the rest of the week will not.

That from this moment to the time you finish at the till, you are going to press the pause button on any distractions and bring your awareness to your shopping.

You may have heard some say “Never go food shopping when you are hungry”

It’s because we generally make poor decisions when hungry and we really are planning for a few days food with the immediacy of the mind screaming “FEED ME NOW”

A trick to help you: Go immediately and buy a small bottle of water and a small fruit. A banana perhaps. And have that when you start your shopping and sip and munch slowly as you would doing The Raisin Exercise.

Pay attention to the textures, the taste and the sensations of the fruit. It really is a supreme way of being mindful and doing the shop. It’s just enough to rehydrate and nourish.

It may sound like an inconvenience BUT it’s better than impulse buying, which will cost you money and perhaps a second trip to the shops when you realise that you did not get what you REALLY needed for the week.

Because all the brain could think of is: “FEED ME NOW”

And begin to make this a habit of kindness and generosity to yourself. And remember to tell yourself it’s because you care. You actually care.

Why is this important?

Because the actions you take over the course of the next few minutes could determine what you eat for the next few days.

The foods you choose, the choices you make, the items you are attracted to could be based on the way you are feeling AT THAT MOMENT.

The brain is not disciplined enough to plan out the next few meals. So having a shopping list helps. But it’s ok if you don’t have one.

Stop Breathe and debate with yourself if you have to. Have a Mantra or Affirmation that you can repeat over and over. You can call it a distraction method but is also a way of bringing your awareness to the present moment and remembering your immediate goal:

To shop healthy as a prelude to mindful eating. Everyday. This moment is all that you need to focus on. And then the next. But these moments are the foundations of your week (whatever it may bring)

“I'm Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.

I’m Making MY Difference.”

The more I do it, the easier it gets.

And the day will arrive when I will stand shocked outside the supermarket. Stunned that I never even walked down the pizza or ice cream aisle. (We discussed this in Keystone Habits)

Notice your emotions when you sit down to eat.

Remember to notice your emotions when you arrive at the meal.

Try to remember as they could be the same feelings and emotions you have before you enter the supermarket. Are you hungry, rushed, tired, upset, agitated or even angry? Just gently acknowledge these feelings with a soft “I know how I am feeling right now. It’s ok. I these things happen” This is awareness of the moment.

If you can make it a habit to be aware of how you are feeling. You will slowly be aware of the AUTOMATIC BEHAVIOURS associated with how you are feeling.

Each time you notice this, you can have a, shall we say, defence mechanism.

This could be a bottle of water and a banana when you go food shopping. Or a short breathing exercise to acknowledge your mood or feelings just before you start your meal.

Remember the basic rules of Dinner Etiquette below at least. And give yourself the kindness and space to be aware that this is now time to eat and nourish your body.

Mindful eating is such a simple reset. It really is.


Because mindful Eating is focused on set periods of the day, it’s actually a much easier, well-defined opportunity for you to centre your awareness and be mindful.

It’s like a perfect training school with scheduled classes (the meal times)

For much of the day, we HAVE TO BRING our attention to the moment. Mealtimes offer the perfect, defined framework within which we can be mindful.

Don’t let them slip past.

Grab these opportunities.

They can bring the habit of mindful awareness to the next step in your day. And the one after that too.

Mindful Eating and Dinner Etiquette

There are many little rules but we will just list the key ones, especially those that cross over mindful eating and Dinner Etiquette

  • Find a space to eat. Preferably a table.
  • As a little extra, you could begin to wear a string or a band around one wrist as a visual reminder of your intentions at this and every meal.
  • Try to have the right cutlery for the meal.
  • Be aware of your feelings and emotions. Try to take a breath, pause and serve.
  • Take a small to moderate portion size. Don’t overfill your plate. If at the end of the meal, and 20 or so minutes, you feel you need a little extra. Then feel free to go for seconds.
  • When you arrive at your meal, put your phone away and if you can, try not to watch the TV or your laptop.
  • Pretend you have guests. And they are watching you.
  • Be grateful for the meal before you. Just for one small moment, let the thought run through your head, and tell yourself that as part of your gratitude you will appreciate this meal with unrushed respect.
  • Bring all that you have learned from The Raisin Exercise
  • Look at the textures, shapes, colours. Take a deeper breath and try to catch the smell of the food.
  • Cut small manageable portions that are not going to fill your mouth
  • Now if you can. When you taste the very first bite, close your eyes, like in the raisin exercise.
  • Slowly bring your awareness to the texture and flavours of the food. Savour it. Try to identify the different flavours.
  • Think of where the ingredients might have come from and all the lives touched before it has arrived here.
  • Make sure that you have placed the cutlery down once you begin to chew. Your fork or knife should not be in your hands at during mouthfuls.
  • Chew slowly and meaningfully, till it is definitely ready to swallow. Don't just gulp down your food. Bring your awareness to the flavours again.
  • Only pick up your cutlery to cut the next portion AFTER you have swallowed.
  • You should never be put more food into your mouth if you have not finished the previous mouthful.
  • Try not to haunch over your plate. If you can, gently try to sit up straight. There is no need to be rigid or stiff, just natural alertness and awareness rather than a slouch.
  • Chew with your mouth shut.
  • Don’t stab at your food whilst chewing, or shovel it about on the plate (What are you doing holding on to your cutlery anyway?!)
  • Pace yourself, and stop if you feel you have had enough (when you are no longer hungry)
  • If you have finished everything on the plate. Give it a moment. Let things settle. Savour the lingering flavours that may be present.
  • There is no need to rush. The extras are there if you need them. They are not going to run away and disappear
  • Now ask yourself consciously. “Do I want a little more or have I had enough?”
  • If you want a little more, that’s fine too.
  • Finally, thank yourself for taking the time to appreciate your meal.

And that, simply put, is Dinner Etiquette/Table Manners/Mindful Eating.

Which has often begged the question for me; what were our parents trying to teach us? Politeness? Decorum?

Was there something deeper in human history that allowed a pattern to develop, that evolved into etiquette, but really was a slow learning process of how we can all enjoy our food, reduce waste, share scant supplies, or not gulp it down with no thought at all?

Happy Stepping! (and eating)

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