Hunger gives us many opportunities to practice mindfulness. If we consider mindfulness to be being aware of our presence moment to moment experiences, then hunger is a perfect opportunity to exercise mindfulness because we're fueled by food. We are wired to eat. We need to eat to function. So, every day we have these built-in reminders to practice mindfulness.
How to become a more mindful eating or to include mindfulness in your life in any area is to increase awareness.
Awareness is the first step, the cornerstone on the path to true and lasting change. We know that mindfulness is linked with kindness and compassion and that this self-awareness is non-judgmental. This is not a practice of self-abuse or self- judgment. This is a practice which is kind and compassionate and non-judgmental. It's totally normal to forget to be mindful at times. We all forget. We all stumble. And we are all learning.
Remember, the peace of self-compassion is so important because it teaches us to ask ourselves what we truly need, what would be good for us in this moment versus self-criticism which tends to drive overeating. Mindfulness, kindness, and self-compassion are what allows us to begin again and again each and every time we forget.
Here's what I want you to do. Ask these questions to yourself with kind awareness when you are feeling hunger. Ask, "Why am I choosing to eat? And what do I really need? What does my body really need?" Learn to identify what physical hunger feels like to you. Learn the nuances of the language of your body the physical sensations your body emits and calls out to you. Notice specifically what your hunger feels like physically.
A good way to do that is to use the hunger scale. You can take the printout of the hunger scale and paste it somewhere like on your refrigerator or a kitchen cupboard where it's easy to see. But remember, from a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being extremely famished, empty, no more fuel in the tank, to 10 being so full, you're splashing fuel all over the place, you're nauseated, you're bilious. Remember, we want to start eating around the range of 3 or 4, where we're somewhat neutral or just starting to feel hunger, the first signs of hunger.
Remember, the first signs you have to go to the bathroom you tend to respond to those signals. So, respond to your body's hunger signals the same way.
And then here's the other layer of practice with the hunger scale. Complete your eating around 5 to 7 range. This is where you're feeling satisfied and starting to get full.
Remember, it takes your body 20 minutes to recognize that it is receiving food, that brain/body, brain/belly connection. So, one way to help you deal with that 20-minute gap is to set an intention of how full you want to be before you start eating. So, when you sit down before you put the utensil with food into your mouth or before you take the first bite, practice setting an intention of how you want to feel after you're done eating.
You could also create a little speed bump on your plate or a speed bump in the food. And what I mean by this is establish an area that serves as a reminder. When you get to that area you pause and you check in and you're checking in with your fullness level, you're checking in with your eating behaviors. Are you tuned into what you're doing? Are you full? Are you starting to get full? Where are you in the process?
Another way to boost your practice is to recognize where the head hunger or emotional eating is coming from. This is a good time to ask yourself, "What are my true needs.?" If you find yourself reaching for food when you're bored or sad or angry or frustrated that can be a very good indicator of emotional needs not being met.
Also, pay attention to the social expectations from others. These are things like, "Oh here take a bite. Oh, I made you these. Try this." Or you know, when it's happy hour after work and everybody expects you to partake in social drinking or if something just looks so good that you're tempted to do to eat if you're not even hungry.
And also, notice when you experience environmental triggers. These are things like popcorn at the movie, advertisements like seeing a picture of something on the side of a bus or a billboard or a commercial. Notice some kinds of environmental triggers happening in your day-to-day experience.
So, let's put these into six specific steps you can take as practice for mindful eating.
Number 1: Before eating, give your hunger a number and practice how full you are, practice being aware of how full you are getting while you're eating. Remember to practice giving yourself a fullness number too.
Number 2: Explore alternate ways to fill your true needs. Explore what else you can do when you're not hungry and practice mindful breathing.
Number 3: Remember to practice five minutes of intentional breathing. Compassionately sensing your body. Noticing your thoughts and your mood. It can be helpful to set a timer. For example, you're already going to bed every night. So, if you haven't done this practice yet in the day then set your timer for five minutes and when the timer goes off you've got your practice in.
Number 4: Practice being mindful as often as you can throughout your day. Make a game of it. How many times during the day can you take a few conscious breaths? And another like a good reminder to do this is when you are feeling irritated or edgy at the very first crawly sensations of that irritation. That's a good indicator to pause and take those few conscious breaths noticing your posture, your breathing, and allow yourself to expand your view, to take in your surroundings.
Number 5: Writing in your journal and doing this with an attitude of kindness. Write down why you are eating, when you eat, what you choose to eat, how you eat your food, how much you eat, and where your energy is going after you're done eating, so where you use your energy after eating.
And continue to research new resources on mindful eating that can support your unique and individual mindful eating journey. I leave you with this quote from Kristin Neff. She says, "Naming a difficult emotion helps us not get lost in it."