Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on the present moment; calmly and non-judgmentally accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and sensations. This practice can take many forms: some people may incorporate it into a daily meditation practice, while others may simply strive for a more mindful attitude towards their everyday activities. Perhaps one of the most fruitful activities to engage with more mindfully is the act of eating.
What happens when you bring a mindful approach to eating?
- You focus on the sensations of your meal (taste, texture, smell, appearance, etc.), rather than letting your mind wander.
- You notice your body’s hunger and fullness cues. You use these signals to tell you when to eat and when to stop, rather than relying on external cues such as calorie restrictions.
- You notice, without judgment, your own likes, dislikes, preferences, and desires for certain foods as opposed to others.
- You focus on the present moment, the present meal, the present bite of food, instead of worrying about the past or the future.
Why eat mindfully?
- It makes eating more enjoyable. When you eat mindfully, you’re able to savour each bite of food. You may find yourself feeling more thankful for the meal you’re about to eat, or more appreciative of small pleasures such as a bite of something delicious.
- It supports long-term health. When you eat mindfully, you may begin noticing that you feel better when you eat certain foods as opposed to others. By paying attention to the way different foods make you feel throughout the day, you will probably gravitate naturally to a more healthy, balanced diet. Better yet, you’re able to discover a diet that works for you and your body, rather than just something that someone else is promoting.
- It helps to build a healthy relationship with food. When you eat mindfully and non-judgmentally, you start to take the guilt and anxiety out of eating. Mindful eating encourages you to let go of your “food rules” and restrictions, and instead to listen to your body: eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and choose foods that nourish you and make you feel good. Sometimes that might be a salad and sometimes it might be a sweet treat - either way, savour and enjoy it.
- It gives you more energy. When you pay attention to your body’s hunger cues, you’ll be less likely to skip meals. Eating regularly will ensure your body has the nourishment it needs and will help you feel more energized over the course of the day. At the same time, you’ll notice when you’re full and be less likely to overeat and feel sleepy afterwards.
- It can help you manage the side effects of your thyroid treatment. By being mindful when you eat, you may notice that certain foods make your symptoms better or worse. For example, if your mouth is dry from radiation treatment, eating mindfully may help you to discover the foods and textures that are easier for your body to handle.
Some ideas for getting started:
- Give yourself permission to eat. One of the key parts of a mindfulness practice is non-judgment. Rather than telling yourself what you should or shouldn’t eat, give yourself permission to listen to your body and give it what it needs. That includes treats, too! Some people are afraid that if they give up their food rules, they’ll end up eating nothing but junk food. In fact, the opposite is often true. When a food is forbidden, it becomes more alluring, whereas when you give yourself permission to have what you want, you may paradoxically find yourself eating it less often.
- Practice, one bite at a time. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect - again, mindfulness is about non-judgment. If you find yourself rushing through a meal without paying attention, just notice that, and bring your attention back.
- Honour your feelings without using food. Do you find yourself eating for reasons other than physical hunger? Perhaps you’re bored, or upset and looking for comfort. If you find yourself doing this, simply notice it. How does it make you feel? Are there other ways you could honour your feelings without using food? If you are concerned about emotional eating, you may find it helpful to consult a therapist and/or a registered dietitian, who can give you more personalized advice.
- Respect your body. Many people wonder whether eating more mindfully will help them to lose weight. The answer is - maybe. Weight is a complicated issue affected by many factors, only some of which are under your control. Remember that everyone’s body is different, and you can take steps to improve your health and wellbeing regardless of what size you are. Focus on taking care of your body, and accepting the changes that may be occurring to it as a result of your thyroid diagnosis and treatment.
Mindful eating can be a challenge, especially if you’ve been stuck in a diet mentality for years or even decades. Don’t expect yourself to change overnight - just approach your next meal with a little bit more mindfulness and curiosity, and see what changes may occur.
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