Mindful eating in self-isolation

Until recently I was completing a 12-week, group-based, NHS supported programme to lose weight for health reasons. I’m technically obese, asthmatic and have other minor weight-related health issues. In the last month I have reduced my calorie intake, been walking more and attending sessions such as Aquacise at the local pool and was feeling quite positive and motivated.

The COVID-19 \ Coronavirus pandemic has meant that these activities have been disrupted, even just with a reduction in activities and before social distancing \ self-isolation due to the outbreak. Obviously we don’t know to what degree our diets will be affected or for how long, but potential home isolation, heightened anxiety or depression, changes in routine and a lack of variety of food types are likely to impact attempts at weight loss.

At The Owl and The Coconut we try to accept ourselves as we are and reduce absorption of external opinions about weight loss. Over Christmas 2019 at the Book Club (now online!) we read body positivity activist Megan Janye Crabbe aka @bodyposipanda‘s book,  that diets more often than not impossible, and that diet culture is a thing of the past.

We can be fit and happy at any body size, and Megan believes that diet culture is ‘just a marketing spin to make us feel bad and consume more, setting us up to fail and living on a never ending hamster wheel to self-acceptance – something that you just can’t buy’. However, some of us aren’t or don’t feel healthy, and the good thing about the programme I was on was that it was about making small, sustainable changes for our health. Our society may also have been the root cause of overeating, which isn’t healthy.

One thing that can help and doesn’t rely on an external world (obviously apart from being able to get some food in the first place!) is mindful eating, a way to try to change how you think about and go about eating in itself, a form of mindfulness that has been shown to be an effective technique to help gain control eating habits and disorders, reduce binge eating, help weight loss and the best one, improve experiences of enjoyment! It can definitely help to create better relationships with food and healthy weight loss.

So what is mindful eating?

You may have heard of the raisin technique, a practice that is part of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. It involves placing yourself somewhere free from distractions, and exploring a raisin or other small berry with all your senses and a “beginner’s mind”, as though you’d never experienced one before. Eventually you would place the raisin in your mouth (which is where the eating bit comes into it!) but eating can be so much more before chewing, and we’ve become accustomed not to even take notice of food anymore, despite our propensity to make it so tasty and varied.

Getting into the habit of mindful eating isn’t always easy after years of living in a fast-paced society, mindlessly eating, but practise can mean that eventually it is second nature and you could start implementing mindful eating habits with more meals. You could perhaps start with just mindfully eating one meal a day, just snacks or foods with high salt or sugar content. You’ll also find that if you’re rationing food, mindful eating can make eating much more enjoyable and memorable! When you are trying to cut down on something (or scarecity requires it), savouring becomes almost a neccessity. You could also save money and find that you eat much less generally. It can have benefits for anyone, not just those with weight issues.

Some key points about mindful eating:

  • Your brain can take up to 20 minutes to register its fullness, so eating more slowly is an important part of mindful eating and can help to prevent overeating.
  • Appreciation of your food, particularly if you took time to make it, is also key. Appreciation could even start during preparation!
  • Eating without distraction can also help to promote mindfulness – try ceasing conversations and bringing your attention away from the TV for example, and focussing on your food.
  • You should also try to pay attention to your physical fullness-hunger cues, eating only until you’re full and not beyond that, and honing you ability to distinguish between physical hunger as opposed to more psychological triggers for eating.
  • Allowing time for more engagement of your senses by paying more attention to the food itself; noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures and flavours for example.
  • You may find that you feel differently about something after eating it more slowly and mindfully, for example noticing how sugary it feels in the body.

Mindful eating challenge

Say you wanted to mindfully eat a chocolate biscuit (one of my favorite snacks). First eliminate all distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your phone further away so you can eat in silence or with quiet music on, and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does the biscuit look like? Does it have a pattern? What colours is it made up from when you turn it towards the light?
  • Close your eyes if you want to.
  • What texture is it? How does it feel in the hand? If you break it, what happens to it?
  • What does it smell like? Do you like it? What does it remind you of? Does each side smell different?
  • Lick it… What does it it taste like? Is it different than the smell? Can you sense different ingredients?
  • Take a tiny bite…. How does it feel on your teeth? How does it break down when you hold it on your toungue and move it around?
  • Chew thoroughly and slowly… What does it feel like? How sweet is it?
  • Take a breath or a drink between every other bite.
  • Tune in to how the food makes you feel and any physiological changes in your body.
  • Stop eating when you’re full.
  • How do you feel immediately after, or 20 minutes later?
  • After doing this regularly for a few weeks, do you notice a change in how you feel about this particular food? Is there anything you’d like to add or suggest? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below!

Hopefully you will experience some benefits from mindful eating, and can spread the idea to your loved ones, to get you all really enjoying your food! The raisin practice is part of the MBSR course and occasionally some other The Owl and The Coconut online classes – check them out on the Classes and Courses page.

Further reading: 13 tips to stop mindless eating

Author: Lucie Fitzpatrick, freelance marketing consultant.
Date: March 20, 2020