What is it like to eat when no one else is watching? For me, it was absolute freedom! Recently, I explored Dining in the Dark at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. It was impossible not to ask myself that question as I sat blindfolded in a dark room waiting and anticipating the three-course meal coming my way. I knew that not only was I blindfolded during this entire experience but so was every other participant. With that came an evening of play, sensuality, exploration, joy, curiosity, and freedom. Why was it so freeing to eat in this manner? As the first course began, the answer hit me almost immediately... It’s reminiscent of mindful eating!
Many people associate “mindful eating” with healthy food choices. Though that can be a side effect of the practice, that isn’t its first intent. It’s about being present and non-judgmental in the face of food. Learning to pay attention in a particular way to what shows up with yourself and with what is on your plate.
Not only do so many of us eat standing over a desk or in a car rushing through the experience of nourishing ourselves but often so many of us don’t eat because our body needs fuel. We eat because we are anxious or sad, or because the clock says it’s dinnertime, or because everyone else is eating or because we are celebrating, or because it would be a waste of good food to throw it away or because maybe there won’t be any leftovers later.
Over the past few years I have curated several mindful eating experiences in restaurants, yoga studios, an eating disorder clinic and for date nights, and almost every participant was stunned at how different it was to slow down and create a present moment relationship to the shapes, textures, scents, colors, sounds, tastes with their food. Mindful eating also invites you to become aware of the sensations and emotions you may feel in addition to any thoughts that may arise, be it neutral, positive, or negative.
The practice of Mindful Eating asks to entertain self-inquiry. We learn to ask ourselves the question “ Who in me is hungry?” Is it my eyes, my heart, my mind, my stomach, my nervous system? Asking these questions brings about awareness and that awareness ultimately brings about freedom. The more and more one practices asking themselves these questions the more available they may be to transforming their relationship with food and ultimately themselves.
Altering your relationship and finding curiosity and joy with food and eating can take time and practice. Though it seems simple to ask yourself a few questions and learn to pay attention to your food through your senses, I personally haven’t found it to be a light switch on or off. I have found it to be a tool that takes consistency, nourished practice, and time because changing your relationship with food takes self-trust, self-awareness, and self-compassion all of which are intrapersonal skills that often require cultivation.
So where does one begin with this journey of freedom with food? My journey personally began with this question. “Am I hungry for food, or for something else?” Making space for “something else” is where a lot of my healing began as it allowed me to explore what I was feeling, something that prior to this I often avoided. Food was a way for me to exercise control, stuff emotions, evoke emotions of shame and guilt, numb myself to overwhelm or run from hurt and pain. Literally, seeing that for what it was through making space for the “something else” allowed for the transformation of what needed to be healed. Honoring that allowed me to see myself as a human being.
Through the practice of mindful eating, I have come to learn that I didn’t have to believe the different voices of myself ranging from critic to pusher to perfectionist. I could appreciate the awareness that these voices were asking me to attend to and then bring in the practice of love and kindness if necessary to counter them. Developing a mindful relationship with food has also allowed me to not ignore the signals of my body as well as become aware of foods that don’t agree with my system or cause inflammation. It has given me permission to also eat mindlessly knowing full well I was choosing to do that. Overall, the practice is rooted in awareness with small changes within the window of my own tolerance. These small changes become large changes over time.