You’ve probably heard the phrase “practice makes perfect,” but at least in terms of mindful eating, that’s not the best guidance. Striving for perfection sets you up for feelings of failure, shame, and guilt.
And besides, we’re only human – perfection isn’t possible!
That doesn’t mean practice isn’t important, but I liked the way a presenter talked about it on a recent webinar. She said the reason to practice is that “you get better with practice.”
That’s a much better approach for mindful eating. It doesn’t imply that you’ll attain a perfect state where you’ll always eat mindfully, all the time. Instead, it just reminds you that if you want to eat mindfully more often, it’s something you need to practice.
If you’re wondering how to practice mindful eating, here are five ideas to get you started.
Planning and Preparation
When you’re trying to eat mindfully, it can be helpful to have a variety of foods available so you can easily find something you’ll enjoy. It can also be useful to do some preparation ahead of time, such as washing fruits or chopping vegetables, to make them easy to grab when you want them.
Getting to the point where you’re prepared in this way takes practice, though, as well as some planning.
To start, see if you can notice these things about your eating:
Once you know the answers to those questions, you can start planning and preparing. For example, if you know that peanut butter toast, or crackers and cheese, is a good snack for you, you can plan to have that available. And if you know you’ll get tired of peanut butter toast after a couple of days, try to have a few options on hand so you can eat something different every day or two.
It’s also important to remember that everyone is different in terms of what they’ll want to eat, how much of it they want, and how often they want it. So make sure you’re paying attention to your own needs and not what someone else is doing.
An activity that you might have fun practicing is meal presentation!
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to make your meal or snack look like it was served in a five-star restaurant. But if you take a little time to put things on a nice dish, arrange it in an attractive way, and admire it before you eat, it can make a difference. You might eat more mindfully once you get in the mindset of appreciating the food.
You can also do this with prepared items. You don’t have to eat it out of the container it came in. Try putting packaged foods on a real plate or in a bowl, and see if it changes how you eat the food.
As an example, here’s some roasted cauliflower I put in a bowl. It’s not super fancy, but I liked the contrast of the cauliflower against the dark blue, while it would have looked more plain on a white plate.
Pausing Before Eating
One of the best things to practice is pausing before you eat to relax and shift your focus to your meal.
And believe me, this definitely takes practice. Our society isn’t much for stopping, although these days, that’s changing a little for some people. Most of the time, though, we’re encouraged to rush between things, and that includes racing through our meal, or eating while doing something else.
Instead, see if you can take even a few seconds to pause before you eat. If you’ve arranged your food artfully, this is a good time to enjoy that. But no matter how the food looks, you can take a moment to feel grateful for it, or notice how it smells, or just enjoy a moment of calm.
Identifying Your True Needs
With mindful eating, one of the key components is figuring out why you want to eat. Sometimes, it might be that you’re hungry, but you might also want to eat when you’re not hungry. Sometimes it’s a combination – you’re hungry and you also have another reason to reach for food.
Understanding what’s driving this desire to eat is key. If you’re not hungry, you could choose to eat anyway, but you’d likely be better satisfied by addressing the true need.
It can take a while to notice what’s going on, though. You can start by doing some internal exploration, by writing in stream-of-consciousness or perhaps going for a walk and mulling it over. You might talk it out with a friend if you’re someone who processes by talking.
If you can’t figure out the reason right away, that’s okay. Just keep practicing, and you’ll start to get better at it.
Enjoying the Food
And finally, you can practice enjoying your food!
I realize that could sound strange. You might think you enjoy food too much already without the practice.
But a lot of the time, we don’t notice what we’re eating that much, especially if we’re doing something else at the same time. And that means we’re not fully enjoying it.
As an experiment, you could try eating mindfully for one minute, or even 30 seconds (but probably not less than that). This would involve:
Pausing for a couple of breaths before eating
Taking a small bite of your food
Putting down your utensil (if you’re using one)
Focusing on the food and noticing how it tastes without doing anything else
If you do this, does the food taste better? Or maybe not as good as you thought it did? Either way, you’ll find out something about what you truly enjoy eating.
What Will You Practice?
With all this in mind, is there something you’d like to practice when it comes to mindful eating? If so, I’ve love to hear about it!
And just remember, practicing mindful eating isn’t about perfection. It isn’t a competition. It’s not about doing what’s right for someone else.
This type of practice is just about helping you get better at finding out what you need and helping you fully appreciate and enjoy your food when you have it.