“Wow, that was so cool!” is what most people say after their first mindful eating experience, quickly followed by “I should probably be eating like that more often.”
I don’t know whether to cry or laugh at this response. It’s so predictably human, this impulse to turn a cool new experience into yet another obligation, another “should.”
From there, it’s likely to become an inner battle.
Sample inner dialogue:
“I should put my phone away while I eat.”
“But I just want to check my messages…”
“But I know that eating without distractions is better for me. I have to be good.”
“Maybe I can eat mindfully at dinner instead.”
“Gah! Why is it so hard to put my phone away?!?”
And so it keeps going, until you make a decision.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what decision you make, or whether you eat mindfully in the end. It’s the inner struggle itself and the mindset that creates it that are calling for your attention.
There’s so much we can learn from these types of inner dialogues. Our resistance has a lot to teach us about our beliefs and motivations. For example:
- “Don’t tell me what to do.” A lot of us don’t like being told what to do, even if we’re the ones doing the telling, and even if we truly believe that what we’re telling ourselves to do is good for us. It’s reasonable to expect that every “should” will be met with some level of resistance. Antidote: Practice replacing the phrase “I should” with “I want to.”
- “If some is good, then more is better.” We assume that if eating mindfully is good, then it is best to do it as much as possible, and it is bad whenever we don’t do it. Antidote: Remind yourself that while practicing mindful eating has benefits, there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad with not eating mindfully.
- “Mindless eating is bad…but I like it” Anything that doesn’t fit your definition of mindful eating becomes a “guilty pleasure.” Antidote: Allow yourself to enjoy what you enjoy without guilt.
The theme here is this: If you turn mindful eating into a moral obligation, you’ll experience resistance.
You might think you’re winning when you can make yourself practice mindful eating, but you’re losing the battle in the long run. Will power is temporary. It will always run out.
If your goal is to eat more mindfully in the future, you must give yourself the freedom to eat without guilt. If you keep a curious and non-judgmental mindset, it’s possible to learn from any type of eating experience.
So, what does this all look like in real life? Here’s an example:
It’s lunch time. I think to myself, “Maybe I should practice mindful eating.” I notice the “should” and ask myself, “Wait… what do I want to do?”
“I want to practice eating mindfully because…(pause for thought) it allows me to enjoy my food more, and notice when I am satisfied.”
“What else do I want?” (curious pause)
“I want to look at Facebook while I eat because I enjoy reading status updates from my friends and interesting articles.”
(automatic response) “But mindful eating is more important! I shouldn’t be so wrapped up in social media!”
Oops! I notice that I’m back into self-judgment. I remind myself that it’s ok to want whatever I want.
“Ok, so I have two conflicting desires, both equally valid. What am I going to do?”
This is an invitation to experiment. Things I could try:
- Eat the entire meal while checking social media.
- Eat the entire meal without checking social media.
- Check social media for 10 minutes and then eat mindfully afterwards.
- Eat mindfully first and then check social media afterwards.
- Check social media for the first 10 minutes of eating and then put it away.
It doesn’t matter which I choose. It matters that I approach the experiment with an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity, staying open to noticing whatever happens.
There is no right or wrong, just an ongoing process of making decisions based on the best information we have at any given moment. Forcing yourself to eat mindfully when you don’t feel like it is counter to the purpose of mindful eating, so get curious and let yourself off the hook. See what happens!
(New to mindful eating? Start here.)