December 14, 2022

Mindful Eating Exercise

By Megan Hanafee-Major
Mental Health & Wellbeing

This is the primary way I use mindful eating for myself and in sessions. This simple exercise seems easy but can feel really challenging. Don’t give up if it doesn’t come naturally the first time (or two or three). Mindfulness is hard, but even an “imperfect” try can bring us so much good. Once you have practiced this exercise on a small scale a few times, mix it up. Try a new food. Try something with more complex smells, or tastes, or textures. Try for a longer period of time. Try to eat an entire meal mindfully instead of just part. Try leading a friend or family member with you.

I like to start with a Hershey bar or some other similar candy. It works well for a few reasons: you can break off a small bite-size piece at a time, it melts in your mouth, and it’s delicious. If that’s not your style, find what works for you!

Sight and Smell

Take your chocolate bar and unwrap a corner of it slowly. Don’t touch the chocolate or break off a piece yet, just look at the exposed bit; really examine it. Notice the color, how the texture looks, any imprints from the packaging.

Now hold it up to your nose and smell the chocolate. You might choose to close your eyes and focus just on the scent. Does the smell remind you of anything? Perhaps a memory pops into your head from a time in the past when you ate chocolate. Notice the thought, maybe even thank it for visiting, then refocus your attention on the smell of the candy. How might you describe the smell to someone who has never had chocolate before? Rich? Sweet? Something else?

Touch and Thought Exploration

Next, break off the piece you are going to eat. Hold it in your palm or between your fingers, but don’t take a bite yet. How does it feel? Is it smooth? Is it melting in your hand? Resist the urge to lick your fingers or clean up, just keep your attention on how the candy feels on your skin.

About now our mouths may be watering. It might feel like too much to wait to eat the candy any longer,  but take a moment to think about these feelings. What are your thoughts telling you now? Maybe, “hurry up before it’s gone!” What emotions do you feel as you wait to eat? Feelings of anticipation? Excitement? Shame? Eagerness? Be curious about what these feelings are telling you. If your thoughts begin to drift to a place of criticism or guilt, acknowledge them for what they are, then let them float away by saying, “this is not for me right now.”  Perhaps you have a sense of urgency because the chocolate might melt, or you fear it will be taken away, or since it is precious there is a limited amount. Acknowledge that these feelings and fears may have served you at one time or another, but they are not necessary here and now. There will always be another piece, there is enough time, this candy does not make you bad in any way. Let those thoughts depart and replace them with gratitude that you get to enjoy this treat, enjoy your body, and enjoy how delicious it is.

Taste and Reflection

If the chocolate has melted a bit in your hand, that’s okay, you can clean it later.  Place the piece of candy in your mouth. Try to refrain from chewing or swallowing it quite yet.  Let it sit on your tongue as you close your mouth. Again, you may want to close your eyes to focus on the taste. If that is not for you, you can focus your gaze on a spot on the wall, or floor, or your lap. Turn all of your attention to the taste of the chocolate on your tongue. What is the texture like? Can you feel it begin to melt?  Notice if it is similar or different from the way you expected it to taste. How would you describe this taste to someone else?  

Does the taste remind you of anything? Maybe an image of a childhood birthday party comes to mind, or the smell of a bonfire. Perhaps your mind connects this taste with another taste like salt or cookies or peanut butter. Continue to wait to swallow. Notice if any negative or critical thoughts arise. Be curious about them, but then let them go. They are not for right now.

When you are ready, finish eating the piece of chocolate. Imagine it dropping down into your stomach and providing you with energy for a task later on today. Thank your body for using food as nourishment. Thank your tastebuds for helping you enjoy food. Thank your mind for the mindfulness practice you just completed.

Try this exercise on your own with whatever food makes sense for you! It will probably be challenging at first, but most things are. Have patience with yourself. Maybe tweak something that doesn’t quite work for you and try again. This can be a great exercise to practice in a session with your counselor in order to process your thoughts and feelings afterward together. If you don’t currently have a counselor, fill out an inquiry form online, our Optimum Joy therapists would love to meet with you!

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