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Mindful Eating is Sometimes Messy – And That’s Okay

Do you like getting messy? Or does it make you uncomfortable?

I think many of us are taught that messiness is something to avoid, but I was recently reminded that it isn’t necessarily bad.

This came up when I listened to an On Being podcast about bringing your whole self to work, and it included this quote from Jerry Colonna: “There’s nothing wrong with mess. It’s gorgeous. It’s like an art project. I defy you to paint a masterpiece without getting paint on the floor or in your hair. That’s the point. It’s actually fun to kind of be messy.”

And even though he was talking about work, I couldn’t help thinking about mindful eating, and the contrast with diets.

Diets don’t want you to be messy. They want you to follow the rules and stay inside the lines. They don’t allow for much creativity or humanness.

Mindful eating, on the other hand, encourages a certain amount of messiness.

When you’re eating mindfully, you’re experimenting, you’re creating your own masterpiece of your life. You won’t always end up with what you expected, but out of the mess usually evolves something rich and wonderful.

Kids playing with food

Consider how babies and young kids interact with food. They’re definitely not playing by any rules except their own, and they’re not afraid of getting silly or messy with food.

This is something we’re taught not to do as we get older, but I think we’re missing out. If you haven’t gotten hands-on with your food in a while, give it a try.

This doesn’t have to mean getting quite as messy as a little kid. But try cooking or preparing food really mindfully. Notice the feel of the food in your hands, the textures and colors and smells.

I just put this into practice for myself by going strawberry picking. When you do this, you have to be okay with getting a little dirty and getting strawberry juice on you.


I enjoy so much about the experience, even more because it’s something I couldn’t do as a kid. I was super allergic to strawberries when I was little and broke out into serious hives. It wasn’t until college that I even dared try them again, but then I was hooked.

Plus, while fancy dinners with the proper silverware might taste good, they’re not generally as fun as something you can eat with your hands. For example, I’m always delighted to eat fresh peaches, and part of the joy is the sweet juice dripping down my chin and hands.

You don’t need to be afraid of the mess

I think part of the reason that we’re taught not to be messy is because it feels out of control. If you’re not going to play by the rules, then anything could happen! And that’s a little scary.

You might have that same fear about mindful eating. If you give up the strict rules and go outside the lines, what then? How far will you go? What if you wreck something?

Generally, though, the only times this is truly a problem is if it’s in reaction to being too strict for too long. When you loosen up, you go too far in the other direction. It takes a while to settle into that middle ground, where you can be a little messy but not go overboard.

But even if you go too far at first, it’s okay. It’s part of the process to experiment and see what your own limits and comfort levels are, and that’s something only you can know. No one else can judge what your body wants or needs.

Appreciating order on your terms

What’s even better about experimenting with eating and your food is that you learn more about what you’re comfortable with. You can find the level of flexibility and rule-breaking that works for you.

And you’ll appreciate the amount of order that you settle on even more, because it’s based on your individual situation. You’re not following an arbitrary path someone else defined. You’re going the way that youchose, and that makes a huge difference.

It reminds me of a passage from Jane Eyreby Charlotte Bronte (emphasis added): “Happy at Moor House I was, and hard I worked; and so did Hannah: she was charmed to see how jovial I could be amidst the bustle of a house turned topsy-turvy…. And really, after a day or two of confusion worse confounded, it was delightful by degrees to invoke order from the chaos we ourselves had made.” (pp. 373-374)

How about you? Do you have any favorite messy foods or food experiences? Or do you try to avoid the mess?

If you haven’t tried the messier approach before, I hope you give it a try, and let me know what you think.

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