Mindful Eating as Self-Care

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is all about being fully present in the moment. In a mindful state, you are using your senses to be aware of the present situation—taking everything in without impulsively reacting; noticing things, including your own feelings. Like anything, mindfulness gets easier with practice. Not only does intentional mindfulness become easier to practice with time, but you also subconsciously train your brain to behave mindfully in different types of situations.

What is self-care?

You can’t pour from an empty cup, and in an ideal world, self-care would be everyone’s priority. Only when we first take proper care of ourselves can we make a positive difference in the world around us—with the people in our immediate circles, communities, and beyond.

Self-care is often confused with ideas like selfishness and indulgence, but that’s not at all what it is. Indulgence might involve staying up too late to watch “just one more episode,” whereas self-care would involve recognizing that you need sleep and then going to bed early. Self-care might mean having water with dinner instead of alcohol, flossing your teeth, opting out of a social gathering when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or seeing a therapist. 

Self-care can very well feel indulgent, but it is not at all about taking the easy road from moment to moment; it’s about making decisions that benefit your well-being. Self-care is all about meeting your own physical and emotional needs, and being mindful can help you recognize and connect with what those specific needs are. Practicing mindfulness is a form of self-care in and of itself, but it also allows you to tune into the state you’re in and recognize what you need to do to care for yourself.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating combines mindfulness and self-care. You may have also heard the term intuitive eating. These practices are all about tuning into your senses and following your natural cues. Are you hungry, or are you thirsty? Or are you simply bored? Are you about to eat what you are truly craving, or are you grabbing a quick fix? Did you enjoy your food, or were you too distracted to even notice? Eating mindfully is also about opening yourself up to sensations; it’s about catching different aspects of the process of putting together a meal and then fully appreciating and enjoying the process of eating it.

When we think about caring for small children, pets, or our families, we think about providing food as a way of nurturing; but, we don’t always think about feeding ourselves as an act of self-care. The foods that we choose to eat, and the space we create in our lives to plan and prepare and eat that food, are significant aspects of self-care.

How to incorporate mindful eating into your lifestyle.

There are many ways to incorporate mindful eating into your lifestyle; mindfulness is a state that is available to us in all waking situations. Here are some ways to start practicing eating mindfully:

Plan meals and create a grocery list. 

Planning meals and creating grocery lists takes a little bit of time upfront but saves time in the long run. A clear plan makes it easier to provide yourself with nourishing meals in the future; this is self-care. It’s best to avoid shopping when you are hungry and to avoid impulse shopping in general.

No “diets.”

Dieting is about deprivation and constraints—it’s the opposite of mindful eating. You don’t have to be strict; there is room in a healthy lifestyle for treats and indulgences. Tuning in and eating mindfully will help you enjoy these indulgences to their fullest rather than feeling guilt-stricken over cheating on a diet.

Don’t wait until you’re starving to eat. 

Mindfulness can help to attune yourself to your hunger cues. If you wait until you’re starving, you’re more likely to eat whatever is more convenient and less likely to enjoy your meal. If you’re noticing hunger cues between meals and you’ve ruled out boredom or other triggers, have a healthy snack to tide you over.

Start with a small portion and follow hunger cues. 

Sometimes, our programming makes us feel like we need to finish what’s on our plate, even if we’re full. If you start with a smaller portion, you can consciously decide if you want to serve yourself more afterwards.

Take a moment.

Take a moment to appreciate the effort it took to get your meal onto the table; there really is a lot that goes into the process. Expressing gratitude, even internally, is a way to show self-care. By savouring a moment to appreciate your efforts, you’re more likely to remember to express gratitude, which will motivate your next meal preparation.

Use your senses.

Practice using all of your senses when you are preparing and eating your meal. What does the food sound like in the pan? Can you identify the different smells? What colours can you see? Can you taste all of the ingredients while you chew? What are the different textures you can feel? Using your senses will help you to fully enjoy the process, and it also encourages slowing down and being in the moment.

Take small bites and chew them thoroughly. 

Chewing well will help you truly appreciate the different flavours, and it makes digestion easier. Think about texture and flavour. Try closing your eyes and noticing any differences. Mindfulness is about being in the moment; enjoy your meal and your company in the present. People often get caught up stressing about the future or fretting about the past—let mealtime be a break from that. The more you practice being in the moment, the easier it is to fall into that state in every area of your life—foster patience.

Don’t rush through meals.

Take your time. Eat slowly. Make mealtime a way to engage with your household or carve out some quiet time for yourself. Find enjoyment in every bite.

Avoid distractions.

Turn off the TV and leave your phone away from the table. Be present.

Consider your cravings.

The idea of cravings often has negative connotations, but mindfulness can help you to distinguish healthy cravings from indulgent ones. If you’re craving a sweet drink, try water first—you might be dehydrated. If you’re still craving something sweet, have some fresh fruit. Our bodies often know what we need, and sometimes that means indulgence; that’s totally fine. Other times, our bodies might tell us we’ve over-indulged: have you ever eaten poorly for a couple of days and found yourself craving fresh, crisp greens? Our bodies are often trying to tell us things, and practicing mindfulness and following our own cues are ways to strengthen our feedback loops.

Don’t forget to hydrate.

If you’ve heard the term, “we’re basically houseplants with complicated emotions,” you know that drinking enough water each day is vital and also plays a key part in mindfulness. We require hydration to regulate our body temperature, keep our joints lubricated, support our immune system, and keep our organs functioning properly. Drinking water during or after a meal also helps with digestion and helps deliver nutrients to cells. Water and other liquids also help break down foods allowing your body to maximize the absorption of vitamins and minerals in them. As a treat, you can add fruit to sparkling water or drink electrolyte-rich coconut water—remember to read the labels to avoid added sugars, sodium, or unnecessary preservatives.

How is eating vegan self-care?

Vegan and plant-based meals are ways of showing yourself care by nourishing your body. Just like we try to make the best nutritional choices for babies or children, we can show the same good intentions with how we choose to feed ourselves. Vegan foods and plant-based proteins provide lots of healthy nutrients and dietary fibre. When eating meals heavy on meat and dairy, you are filling up and meeting (or exceeding) your caloric needs, but you’re doing it with foods that don’t fully meet your broader nutritional needs as vegan foods do. vegan lifestyle also shows great care for the environment—like all true self-care practices, the individual is not the only one who benefits.

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