How long does it take you to eat lunch? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? Have you ever found yourself sitting at your desk or in front of the TV, realizing that you have no recollection of what you’ve eaten? If so, you’re not alone.
We live in a busy world, where fast is expected. This impacts us in all areas, including the way we eat. Mindless eating does not necessarily imply a disorder needing psychiatric assistance. It is a habit that many of us employ when we’re simply not paying attention.
In Mindful Eating, Jan Chozen Bays, MD shares how to have a better relationship with food through mindful eating. She teaches readers about different types of hunger, since we often look to satisfy another type of hunger with food.
Having an unbalanced relationship with food is easy to do in our culture. Everything is fast, and we learn from our environment. Portion sizes have also changed drastically. Look at your plate the next time you go to a restaurant and you’ll see how much larger those portions are, compared to years ago.
“If we want to feel satisfied as we eat, the mind has to be aware of what is occurring in the mouth,” writes Chozen Bays.
Not only do we practice mindlessness during meals, we are often not mindful about when we choose to eat our meals as well. Do we eat because of hunger, or simply because we always eat lunch at noon? When we go out to a restaurant, do we always order dessert because that’s our habit? Chozen Bays teaches readers how to notice and challenge these ingrained behaviors.
One of the things Chozen Bays criticizes is the American concept of food being medicine. I personally like this approach, because I can think about whether the food I’m about to eat will provide fuel for my body, or work against me. That said, I do agree that viewing food as medicine can take away from the pleasure from eating, and there’s a risk of becoming legalistic about it.
Chozen Bays also criticizes the research claiming that we don’t drink enough throughout the day, which has resulted in the trend of people carrying water bottles everywhere. This is another point that I also disagree with, because there is value in staying hydrated. A water bottle can also help some get out of a habit of shoving food in their mouths without thinking. People often mistake thirst for hunger.
Ultimately, though, readers need to decide what works for them in developing better habits compared to behaviors that may drive them to mindless eating. Above all, it’s about awareness.
“When the many and contradictory voices around eating are still, when the awareness function is dominant over the thinking function, then we can be fully present as we eat. When we are filled with awareness, we become filled with satisfaction,” writes Chozen Bays.
Key takeaways from Mindful Eating include the importance of slowing down, eating the right amount, not eating something just because it’s there, and being aware of food as energy, meaning that we’re eating what we need to be productive in our daily lives. This includes using good substitutions such as fruit for dessert instead of cake, and keeping things out of sight. If you give in and buy a bag of cookies, they shouldn’t be on your kitchen counter. And always be aware of that inner critic ready to point out every “slip.”
When we become aware of any automatic behavior and begin paying attention to what we do, this is the first step toward mindfulness and toward change. Chozen Bays also offers exercises, such as recognizing what type of hunger we’re experiencing, which can help people put her approach into practice.
People who struggle with eating will find this book to be very practical, and in time can recalibrate their relationship with food. Those new to mindfulness will find this book easy to understand. It presents a practice that everyone can achieve if they devote time to it.
Jan Chozen Bays, MD
Softcover, 232 pages