I can’t remember the first time I heard about mindful eating. Most likely, it was from a binge viewing of ‘What I Ate in a Day’ videos. Some of the tips for mindful eating were instantly recognisable: chew slowly and savour your food; don’t check your phone; pay attention to your senses; recognise the taste and texture in every bite. It all seemed very hippie. I used to try and ‘connect’ more with my food whenever I happened to remember these tips, and, frankly, it seemed tedious. But with the breakneck speed of the university term, and my general exhaustion, I decided to look further into mindful eating to see if it could be beneficial, or even applicable, to my hurried lifestyle. Here’s what I learnt along the way.

1) Mindful eating means putting thought into every meal.

Eliane Lindeque

Whether you’re planning your meals at home or grabbing a sandwich from Pret, mindful eating means paying attention to what you’re putting into your body. That chocolate pudding might lift your mood for a while, but how sluggish will you feel afterwards? This was a tough lesson for me, particularly as unhealthy foods tend to be the cheapest, most portable, and least messy. Nonetheless, I forced myself to leave the Dairy Milk at home, and paid close attention to the kinds of foods that would actually affect my body for the better. Sure, the pre-packaged sandwich didn’t release the same feel-good chemicals as my dose of cocoa, but, in the long run, a proper meal with sufficient nutrients was far more rewarding.

2) It encourages you to be present.

Eliane Lindeque

If I’m treating myself to a study break, I consider phone-use completely justifiable. This is where mindfulness and I conflict. As Adda Bjarnadottir (MS in human nutrition) points out: ‘distractions have shifted our attention away from the actual act of eating, and onto televisions, computers and smartphones’. I had to admit, I didn’t see the problem with phone-use, especially when eating alone. Yet, as Bjarnadottir rightly mentions, this shift in attention from food to phone can cause us to eat more quickly, leaving us—quite literally—hungry for more.

This ‘mindless’ eating only causes us to develop unhealthy habits. I decided to commit, promising myself I could check my phone after meals. Sometimes, it was dull. Not all of my meals are exciting enough for me to savour every texture (how varied is a bowl of Weetabix?). I found myself drifting into other trains of thought, especially at breakfast.

Lunch was the easiest for me. With mindful eating, that feeling of being present is often one you have to schedule in, and that usually means shifting your routine so that the morning beforehand is productive enough to warrant it. I headed to the library straight after breakfast and got in a good few hours of reading before settling down for a meal. This was my time to be present and to savour the food itself, which, after hours of food-free working, was very easy to do. I can’t promise I’ll never use my phone during a meal, but this midday pause encourages me to prioritise time to sit and eat without distractions as often as I can.

3) It’s not always sustainable.

Rebecca Salter

Sometimes it isn’t possible to have a luxurious break. Whether it’s an awkward timetable or a tight deadline, taking the time to eat mindfully isn’t always sustainable. I would love to prep my meals every day and to find a quiet spot to ‘meditate’ over my food, but unless you have exceptional organisational skills and a cafeteria with free seats, you're unlikely to be 100% consistent. I accept that sometimes I do grab a packet of crisps to get me through a double seminar, and I won’t always choose the healthy option if something tempting catches my eye. But, by restoring attention to my food as often as I can, I know I’m likely to make such decisions less frequently.

4) It means listening to your body.

Eliane Lindeque

This is particularly important when it comes to hunger cues. Mindful eating encourages receptiveness to our body’s wants, while also keeping in mind our body’s needs. It means going for the healthy snack when we’re craving chocolate, or filling up on water to prevent false cries for binging. But it also means giving ourselves a small taste of what we enjoy, strictly in moderation and far less frequently than we’d mindlessly do.

Mindful eating tells us to pace ourselves to ensure we don’t eat past our stomach’s capacity, being considerate towards our bodies and their limits. I’m endlessly guilty of giving in when it comes to my favourite junk foods, and I’m likely to grab a snack immediately after a meal instead of waiting for my food to settle. With mindful eating, I began to notice how odd it was that I’d be hungry after a bowl of pasta, only to discover ten minutes later that I wasn’t craving anything at all. I’d drink a glass of water after a heavy meal and find that I was satiated—even energised.

5) It requires patience.

Eliane Lindeque

This is both a blessing and a curse. Mindfulness encourages patience and thoughtfulness in everything we do. As a form of meditation, mindful eating can help us to feel relaxed. It can reduce anxiety and even give us a new perspective on our day-to-day lives. However, it can also be challenging—seemingly impossible to keep on top of and likely to fall through at any point. I didn’t find a clear-cut solution to this when trialling the approach. I felt like a lot of it was down to scheduling adequate time and planning meals ahead—even if I was simply choosing the café I’d buy my meal from.

Some people swear by mindful eating, while others are uninterested. I remain on the fence, seeing it as offering some useful advice and promoting a deeper connection to food. For me, the hardest part was ensuring I’d have the time to fully engage in the moment, as I often had times and dates floating around in my mind that demanded my attention. I also don’t see mindful eating (or mindfulness at large) as a universal cure-all.

Like most of us, I have my slip-ups, and I can even have days at a time where my eating is far from admirable. But, as a writer here at Spoon, I think mindful eating is something we can all learn from—whether to fight binging or to be more present during meals. Mindful eating teaches us the art of slowing down and appreciating our food—everything that goes into it, the people we share it with, and its benefits for our bodies and mental wellbeing. We might not apply this at every single meal, but it's definitely something we can all take on board for the better.