It’s amazing how marketing and convenience has shifted our perspective on eating over the years. “Fun food,” “fast food,” “5-minute meals,” and “handy packaging” are common messages sent today that have made eating without even thinking about it something we all take for granted.
Have you ever finished a meal without having really tasted a bite? Have you rushed to finish breakfast in your car on the way to work?
You can end the eating-on-auto-pilot cycle with mindful eating, a skill taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) programs.
Mindfulness is a centuries-old technique to help us deal with the stresses of everyday life. Taking the skills of mindfulness and training them on how you eat helps with overeating and weight issues. But its benefits reach far beyond that of your physical health alone.
Nicole Riddle, Psy.D., a therapist at Clearview Women’s Center, which offers DBT programs in Los Angeles, describes mindful eating not as a diet, not about restrictions, but as a way to “normalize your relationship with food.”
“Mindful eating can help you to gain awareness in terms of your hunger and fullness levels, and your judgments about food,” Dr. Riddle said. “It can help you be present in the moment when you’re eating, when you’re going to choose the foods you’re going to choose, and when determining whether or not you’re still hungry.”
At Clearview Women’s Center, which provides women’s DBT residential and day treatment, clients participate in mind/body wellness groups to help them address issues around their relationship with food.
“In this group, we put together a synthesis of using DBT skills for eating disorder-related behaviors and body image issues along with nutrition education,” Dr. Riddle said.
One of those DBT skills is mindfulness. To practice this DBT skill during Borderline Personality Disorder treatment at Clearview Women’s Center, clients may eat a mindful meal or mindfully go grocery shopping.
Eating mindfully can lead to the stress-reducing state of being present in the moment. It can lead to a state of gratitude, an appreciation for the many people who came together to bring food to your table. Or, if you planted something, harvested it, and ate it, gratitude for the beautiful communion with nature.
Mindfulness Eating Exercise
In the video below, Dr. Riddle walks you through a mindful eating exercise using a piece of chocolate. To prepare for the exercise, have a piece of wrapped chocolate or another wrapped food handy. Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position, with both feet on the ground.
Take a moment to just breathe at your regular rate and pay attention to your breath. Take a few breaths in and out, just noticing your body in your seat.
5 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating
You don’t have to be enrolled in DBT programs or treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder to practice mindful eating. Here are a five other ways you can practice the DBT skill of mindfulness the next time you sit down for a meal:
- Eat with your senses. We’re so lucky, we’ve got FIVE whole senses. Try using all five of them with every bite, no matter how modest the meal. Imagine a simple piece of toast. Listen with anticipation for the toaster to pop the bread up. Breathe in the aroma of the bread as it toasts, really feel the crunch of the toasted bread as you take a bite. Appreciate the color the toasted bread has turned, notice how much of the butter still sits on top and how much has melted into the grain. Truly taste your food with all your senses.
- Check in. Take a moment before you eat to mentally check in on your hunger level. Does the amount of food on your plate make sense when compared with your hunger level? Are you eating because “it’s dinner time” or because you are actually hungry? Then, make a mindful promise to yourself to eat just until your hunger is satisfied.
- Slow down. This may sound like it should fall in the “Duh!” category, but chew your food! Believe it or not, many people do not chew their food adequately. In fact, many people do not even swallow one mouthful before taking another. A good rule of thumb is to put your fork down in between bites to remind yourself to slow down. Slowing down can help with another benefit of mindful eating, valuing quality of eating over quantity. Scientifically speaking, it takes 20 minutes for ingested food to send the message to your brain that you are satisfied, so slowing down and chewing with more awareness can help you avoid overeating, with the added benefit of really tasting and enjoying every bite.
- Appreciate. Instead of shoving a handful of almonds, or worse, into your mouth as you hop in the car on your way to an appointment, take a moment to think about and appreciate the food you’re putting into your body. Imagine how magical food and eating really are. Think of the miracle behind growing food in a garden. The sun and the rain and the dirt coming together to produce such a colorful variety of different flavors and textures. Imagine the art and chemistry behind cooking.
- Get support. Old habits are hard to break and, if you think about it, do you have an older habit than eating? When embarking on mindful eating, on this new “mindset,” it can help to get friends or a partner involved. Maybe have a mindful dinner party? Try eating, even starting with just once a week, at the table with your partner instead of, as so many of us do, in front of the television. For further support, visit a Borderline Personality Disorder treatment center or consult the NEDA website for more information on mindful eating.
As Michael Pollan, author, journalist, and food activist, explains in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, “The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.”