I often hear people rate themselves as it relates to mindful eating. “I’m trying to eat mindfully” or “I am not really good at mindful eating” or “I wasn’t mindful with my eating at all this week“.
I’m always interested to learn how people decide to rate themselves on this matter. What is the criteria for mindful eating and how well must it be followed to be considered a mindful eater?
Some ideas that mindful eating are contained by are in the following:
- Eating when you are hungry (and not when you aren’t).
- Eating sitting down (but not anywhere you are distracted by, such as in a car, in a theater, a classroom, while reading or in front of the television and especially while on the Internet).
- Eating in a calm environment (never when you are stressed).
- Eating until you are satisfied (not until you are too full).
These are truly lovely ideas and I am sure they offer numerous benefits to our digestive systems, but I don’t think they have to be our plumb line for viewing ourselves as a mindful eater because I don’t think we need a plumb line at all.
It’s possible that we can, and have, taken these ideas and turned them into a set of rules that define our success or failure with food–with life. This, by the way, is a myth, a fantasy. You cannot be a success or a failure with food, you simply eat food or don’t and you eat it in various portions, but the types and amounts of food you ingest have nothing to do with your morality (you can, however, discover many things you believe about yourself and life through food, but food itself does not impact your value as a human being).
That said, mindful eating can certainly be all of the above ideas (and the above ideas do promote mindful eating), but it is your mindset about mindful eating that keeps it a discovery and not a destination that you get to or not. When mindful eating is contained by a list of ideas, rather rules, it is simply that–ideas, rules, constraints, false temperatures about yourself, basically, just another diet.
When I first learned about mindful eating, it was exciting to aim to be present with food, and not just eat from a list of “yes” and “no” ingredients. It was empowering to realize that no outside source could decide what was best for my body, and that my body was all I needed to discover what foods I should eat.
But when I determined my own mindful eating experience to be contained in the above ideas, it was really discouraging when I missed the mark. When I ate not hungry. Standing up. Completely distracted. Overwhelming stressed. And too much. My excitement and empowerment quickly morphed into guilt and shame that I took to mean I was bad for not following the rules, and therefore I needed the rules even more.
I think it is possible to eat when you are not hungry, when you are standing up, when you are stressed out of your mind and to even overeat, and still be mindful throughout the entire experience. You can be mindful about what eating this or that feels like and how it impacts your body, your thinking, your spirit. And to be aware of the impacts without the need to beat yourself up for going off-track, because there is no track. There is just your body and food, and you’re capable of using your own experiences with food as your guide (and what guides one eater may not be relevant to the next so be willing to make this a personal endeavor, and give others the space they need to make theirs their own as well).
Since mindful eating can only happen in the present, whatever has already happened with food, so be it, and whatever is going to happen, will certainly happen, and you’ll be there for it, able to decide what it will look like for you in that very moment. This releases all pressure to obey the above rules or not.
You might be perfectly hungry, sitting at a table with only the distraction of candlelight, and only eat until you are perfectly satisfied.
And you likely won’t.
And since you are still going to eat, why not show up to yourself, present in your body, aware of its sensations, and available to meet your own body’s needs for just that one meal.
And then if you like it you can do it again. And again. And again.
And when you don’t, when you find yourself wandering from the entire experience, simply return home, without guilt, without shame, without needing to condemn yourself for being human. With love, and kindness, acceptance and a willingness to be alive. Just for right now.
And if you like that, you can practice it again. And again. And again.
Image from Pinterest.