Many of us mamas are so busy chasing our mini tornadoes around that we barely have time to eat, let alone sit down to savour a meal. More often than not it’s grabbing a little bite of food here, a little snack there, or eating food off the floor (is that just me?). Generally, we are eating on automatic pilot whilst juggling 40 other tasks at hand! Mindlessly eating.

Here are some examples of mindless eating:

  • Emotional eating such as eating when bored, anxious or for comfort.
  • Finding yourself skipping meals, then eating the first thing you can get your hands on.
  • Grazing on food without stopping to taste it.
  • Eating on the go.
  • Eating until you are stuffed and then feeling guilty afterwards.
  • Eating snacks in front of the TV even though you aren’t really hungry.

Do you recognise any of these habits in yourself? In our household, we always have sit-down meals while avoiding distractions like TV, mobile devices or books. That being said, I have certainly found myself sitting down for a meal and then suddenly there is no food left on my plate and I am barely able to recall the flavours and textures I just ate, yet I’m constantly encouraging my 2 year old to eat slowly and enjoy her food (she is prone to pelican tendencies).

Why is this important? Meal times are a great opportunity to connect with family, communicate and practice gratitude, plus it’s these moments that our kids need. Watch this heartwarming video to see the true value of mealtimes.

Research suggests that traditional family meals are being replaced by TV dinners and alarming evidence suggests that eating in front of the TV leads to mindlessness. If we don’t really taste the food then we won’t get the same satisfaction from it and it is likely to increase our chances of overeating as we miss the body’s satiety messages.

So what is mindful eating? Mindful eating is about bringing awareness to your eating habits, tuning into your senses as you eat and recognising the thoughts and feelings you have about food. It’s about how you eat as opposed to what you eat. One of the many benefits of mindful eating is that you can help curb cravings and binges. By listening to your body you are more able to determine whether you are hungry, thirsty or are actually in need of satisfying an emotional void. Mindfulness can help you recognise whether you are full after a meal and when to stop eating before you need to undo the top button of your jeans!

Try this mindful eating experiment that I use for mindful motherhood training, which is adapted from Jon Kabit Zinn’s ‘Raisin exercise’.

This practice should take around 5 minutes. Whilst particular attention will be given to your sense of taste, all your senses will be involved; you may want to do this by yourself or together with your family.

I like to use a tangerine or orange as there is also the tactile process of peeling the fruit. Firstly, pretend like you are seeing and eating this fruit for the very first time, hold it in both hands, feel the texture of the skin – is it cool, smooth? Notice its colours – how is the light reflecting off it’s skin? Notice its shape then close your eyes and feel the fruit with your hands, noting everything you can about it. Bring it up to your face, feel it with your cheek and if any thoughts pop into your head such as ‘what is the point of this exercise’ or ‘I don’t like this’ just acknowledge them and then bring your awareness back to the fruit.

Next bring the fruit to your nose, inhale deeply, you may notice emotions or memories triggered by the smell, simply acknowledge the thoughts and continue investigating the fruit as you gradually begin to peel the skin. Is there a sound as you peel it? How does it feel in your fingers as you separate the segments? Inhale again and notice how the scent may have changed as you peel the fruit.

When the peel is removed, begin to separate the sections; perhaps you notice your mouth beginning to water? Or your stomach is starting to growl? Next, gently place the fruit into your mouth (without biting it); notice what happens both inside of you and outside of you, perhaps you notice an automatic pilot urge to start chewing? For a moment, just mentally note if your mind is labelling the experience positively or negatively then simply engage with the present moment of eating the fruit as it is, fully and completely eating in this moment.

Chew slowly and deliberately, notice any release of flavour. Notice what you feel as your swallow and how it feels as it moves down your throat and into your belly. Then take a moment to reflect on how often you just eat food unconsciously.

As I was taught and later discovered for myself, many people are amazed when they try mindful eating for the first time. However, some are annoyed, impatient or bored. Learning how to apply mindful awareness to your eating can help your relationship with food overall. For many of us, our lives are full to the brim with things to do so another task on your endless to-do list won’t be appreciated and that’s why I’m not suggesting that you do this for every meal but instead tune into your feelings around food and hunger. Instead of the blink and you’ll miss it approach to eating, taking your time to chew and relish your meals means you are far more likely to eat slowly, aiding digestion and allowing time for your gut to tell your brain that you’re full (a process that takes about 20 minutes). This is also a brilliant practice to teach our little ones, creating healthy life-long habits and a true sense of appreciation for food.

Happy eating x

Amy Dawes is a Wellbeing Consultant and Mindful-Motherhood Trainer. You can learn more about her pregnancy and motherhood solutions at  Mummy Manifesto.