Mindful Eating For Dummies Cheat Sheet
At the most basic level, mindful eating is simply paying attention while you eat. It may sound simple, yet this seemingly mundane task has the capacity to offer you a vast array of life-changing insights and has enough depth to keep you busy exploring new territory for at least a lifetime! This Cheat Sheet discusses the benefits and rewards of mindful eating and the four A’s to changing your habits and achieving mindfulness.
Who Can Benefit from Mindful Eating?
The wonderful part about mindful eating is that it can benefit anyone and everyone. No matter how old you are, what you do, where you live, how active you are or how much you weigh, everyone can reap the rewards of eating more mindfully.
Mindful eating can be especially helpful to you if:
- You notice you regularly eat when you’re not hungry.
- You’ve tried many different diets with little success.
- You struggle with being over- or underweight.
- Your health is having a negative impact on other areas of your life, including your relationships.
- Your health is causing you pain, suffering, or general discontent.
- Your health is preventing you from living the life you truly want to be living.
- You’re constantly thinking about food and what you should or shouldn’t be eating.
- You feel uncomfortable in your body.
- You want to discover how to become more mindful about your food choices.
- You regularly eat to cover up your emotions.
- You eat as a method of distraction.
- You’re afraid to eat from fear of gaining weight.
- You’re afraid to eat in front of other people.
- You want to feel better about and more accepting of your body.
- You feel that you’re too busy to eat healthfully.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindful eating is simply an extension of applying the power of mindfulness to everyday living, so exploring some of the benefits of mindfulness in general is a good place to start. The benefits of mindfulness are nothing to scoff at — the following list is proven, powerful, and profound! Mindfulness as a practice has been shown to help people:
- Decrease anxiety
- Reduce fatigue
- Decrease depression
- Improve focus and attention
- Stabilize moods and reduce mood disturbances
- Improve emotional resiliency
- Improve self-awareness
- Aid with stress management
- Improve self-esteem
- Improve perception of body image
- Decrease the experience of physical pain
- Decrease blood pressure
- Slow heart rate
- Improve ability to relax
- Strengthen the immune system
No wonder mindfulness is no passing fad! More and more people are reaping the benefits of mindfulness and using it as a tool to help discover a richer relationship with life, and that includes a healthier relationship with food.
The Rewards of Mindful Eating
The benefits of mindful eating can most certainly help you find a more balanced approach to eating and relating to food. How often do you turn to food when you’re feeling tired, stressed, anxious, lonely, over-emotional, sad, or depressed, or because of low self-esteem or poor body image? Or rush through eating something without paying attention?
More specifically, on top of all those wonderful mindfulness benefits, a few additional rewards of mindful eating include helping you to:
- Cope with disordered eating
- Regulate eating habits
- Modify or change eating behaviors
- Work with impulse control
- Reduce binge-eating episodes
- Manage weight effectively
Don’t you just love how one simple act can lead to a whole ripple effect of more positive benefits? Call this the up-spiral. So many more rewards ripple out to affect all areas of your life — like improving your relationships with other people, improving your work life and your spiritual life. These kinds of benefits — truly feeling amazing in your body, mind, and spirit — are the deeper reasons that you’re embarking on this mindful eating journey.
If you’ve struggled with food in one way or another, some of these benefits may strike a chord. Whether you’re struggling with losing weight, suffering with a disease like diabetes, trying to change unhealthy eating patterns to healthier ones, have been caught in a cycle of binging, or are suffering from impulsive or mindless eating, then mindfulness can help you to carve out a new path and offers you truly profound benefits that may include:
- Finding a healthy balance within your relationship with food.
- Discovering peace of mind.
- Reconnecting with nature and your food source.
- Feeling good in your body, mind and spirit.
- Feeling a sense of happiness, meaning and purpose in life.
Underneath the more superficial changes that everyone seeks and strives to make lies a fundamental and human desire to feel in balance, peaceful, content, healthy, happy and, ultimately, fulfilled in your lives.
In your mindful eating journal write down your top three initial benefits that you hope to gain through mindful eating. Now look at this list. What intentions or motivations lie underneath your desire to achieve these benefits? What are the deeper, more meaningful benefits that you’re looking to align with?
All the benefits and rewards of mindful eating listed in this Cheat Sheet ultimately point towards this primary benefit of happiness. Paying attention while eating may encourage you to eat less, which may result in the benefit of weight loss, which then may prevent obesity-related diseases like type II diabetes.
Tuning into your body allows you to listen carefully to what your body is communicating to you, and as a result you feel great in your body, which allows you to feel a sense of peace in your mind, and naturally brings greater happiness in your life. Everything comes into harmonious alignment — body, mind, and spirit.
Some of the ways mindful eating lends itself to increased happiness are because mindfulness helps you:
- Become more satisfied with less.
- Have the freedom to make conscious choices.
- Free yourself from the struggle with food.
- Gain greater enjoyment from food and eating.
- Step out of the vise-like grip of a dieting mentality and into a lifestyle-oriented approach to health and wellbeing.
- Truly appreciate the miracle of your body, your life, and the food that enables you to live the life of your choosing.
Like most people, if you dig deep into your relationship with food and look at your underlying motivations surrounding the food-related decisions you make, you’ll find that you simply want to feel good in your body, feel at peace in your mind, and feel a sense of happiness in your life.
The Four A’s to Successful Change and Eating Mindfully
What does it take to make long-lasting, effective change in the direction of a healthier, more mindful you? Four essential steps to changing habits are key — the four A’s to successful change.
The first of the four A’s, awareness is an essential element in establishing an intentional change of habits. You can’t make change happen without first becoming aware of what it is you want to change! Mindfulness is an indispensable tool in helping to cultivate awareness around your relationship with food.
How can you become aware of your unawareness? Awareness is when you catch yourself doing something, like the moment that you snapped back into reality after you caught yourself daydreaming.
Catching yourself acting in a mindless way means that you have just brought awareness to the situation. Way to go! Awareness is the first step towards change. Falling into the trap of putting yourself down when you do something you’re not proud of or something you’re feeling bad about is easy. But remember; at least now you’re bringing awareness to the situation rather than letting your feelings continue to reside in the realm of the unconscious. Remind yourself that being aware is a very important and necessary step towards starting to eat more mindfully. This thought helps prevent you from feeling bad, which can trigger turning to more food to help you feel better, perpetuating an unhealthy eating cycle. Be patient with yourself, give yourself some credit and even congratulate yourself for shining the light of awareness on eating habits that are no longer serving you.
The path towards mindful eating takes time. Don’t expect to be 100 percent aware of everything you eat from now on — this expectation is not realistic. You’re sure to find yourself in many more mindless eating situations somewhere along the road. This behavior is normal and to be expected.
When you do notice yourself eating mindlessly, open up your mindful eating journal and ask yourself the following questions with a self-compassionate and non-judgmental attitude:
- Why did I just eat mindlessly?
- Can I think of a particular trigger that was involved?
- Can I remember what I was feeling while I was eating?
- Who else was involved? Was I alone or with other people?
- What time of day was it?
- Was I feeling tired, stressed or emotional beforehand?
- How can I go about the situation differently next time to help me to eat more mindfully?
Acceptance is the second of the four A’s. After you become aware of what you want to change, the next step is practicing acceptance. Acceptance is about acknowledging responsibility in a loving, self-compassionate way. It’s recognizing that you’ve been reinforcing a mindless habit for perhaps a very long time and accepting where you are in the present moment. Through acceptance you acknowledge that the habits you’ve been strengthening are not contributing to your happiness, and you consciously choose to make a change. This also means that if you want to make change happen, you need to accept what you have to do to make that change.
Acceptance is not resignation or giving up. It’s quite the opposite. Acceptance is an inherent part of mindfulness that allows you to recognize habitual patterns with kindness and become self-aware, allowing you to make new choices for yourself.
Alignment, number three of the four A’s, kicks in after you’ve become aware of what you want to change and have fully accepted and embraced yourself and the situation in the present moment. You can then determine in which direction you’d rather be heading. Think of it as aligning your compass to match your desired destination.
In your mindful eating journal, consciously explore your vision of a healthy, mindful relationship with food. What does your mindful eating destination look like? What does it feel like for you to be eating more mindfully? Use as many feeling descriptors as possible. For example, ‘I feel at peace, calm, nourished, grounded, grateful,’ and so on.
Try to stay grounded, centered, and rooted in the present moment during this visioning process so that you’re not swept up by your thoughts of chasing or longing for a more desirable time in the future.
When you’ve become aware, accepted, and aligned with your new direction, the fourth A comes into play; it’s time to take action to get there! Consider how committed you are to change and what specific actions you need to take to become a more mindful eater. You have to set goals, have realistic expectations and positive intentions.
In order to successfully implement change, you need to be willing to take all four steps. Many people struggle with or get stuck at one or two (or even all!) of these steps.
In your mindful eating journal, write down which of these four steps you think you may struggle with. Which ones do you think you need support with? Are you aware that you struggle with mindless eating in front of the TV, but need an action plan to help you change this habit to become more mindful? Are you having a hard time with number two, accepting that mindless eating is not benefiting you, but is actually causing you a lot of pain and suffering?