Awareness is one of the first steps to mindful eating. You cannot change what you are not aware of. Using the breath to become grounded into the present moment is an easy way to add a pause before a meal and create some space to enter into your eating with ease, decreased stress, and increased focus.
As you sit down for your meal, before picking up a utensil and taking a bite, practice taking a big breath in through your nose to the count of 4-6. It can help to put your hands on your belly or on the sides of your rib cage to feel the breath in your abdomen. On the out-breath, purse your lips, breathing out of your mouth — pursing the lips looks like blowing bubbles or blowing out candles — making the out-breath longer than the in-breath, breathing out to a count of 6-8. Repeat this 3-5 times and notice how you feel.
Taking deep breaths and using pursed-lip breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” nervous system. Tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system allows us to enter into our meals more peacefully, taking time with the process of eating and truly enjoying our food. It allows us to feel into our bodies, noticing our hunger level.
Sometimes we eat because others are eating, it is “time” to eat, a meal is being served, etc., and we may not actually be hungry. Or, we may have skipped one or more meals prior to the one we are sitting down to and we may be “starving,” prompting us to overeat if we are not aware. Either way, knowing our hunger level and being present with that allows for making choices that are aligned with what our bodies need.
A helpful tool to check in with our hunger is called a Hunger Rating Scale. This is a simple scale from 0-10.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
0 = “Starving”
10 = “Stuffed”
5 = “Satisfied” or neutral
If you have taken the time to engage in deep breathing and are able to check in with your hunger and have identified that you are at a 3, eating is a good idea! If you have identified that you are at a 5, 6, or 7, it’s ok not to eat. Maybe you are at a 7 but will not have access to food for a long while after the meal, or you will be engaging in something active or something stressful, so maybe you do need to fuel. This is information your body is giving you, if you are willing and able to listen. Having this information allows you to make embodied decisions about when, where, how, why, and WHAT to eat.
To break this practice down…
- Take 3 to 5 slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through pursed lips.
- Notice how you feel.
- Tune in to your body, specifically your belly.
- Rate your hunger using the Hunger Rating Scale.
- Make a decision about how to move forward based on the information your body is giving you.
- Fuel your body accordingly.
This is a lot! It sounds simple, but it is more complex and nuanced than one might expect. You will probably not be able to do this at every eating episode, and that is OK!! It is certainly not the goal. Even if you can do this before a meal one day a week, you are making progress.
The goal is to simply become more aware of your body so that you can befriend it, allowing it to be what it is, as opposed to fighting with it, trying to will it into something else, or making ourselves feel bad for not living up to our expectations.