“The most important thing is being kind to ourself, to yourself, even if things don’t go as planned”
– Headspace app

Headspace recently launched a Mindful Eating pack, followed by a Coping with Cravings pack. At the end of August, with my PhD defense quickly approaching, I had once again reverted to my go-to stress diet of coffee and buns. It was an excellent time to give myself a nudge to do something about my eating. At the same time, we were in a food rut at home, with two tired parents and a toddler that had just entered the “no vegetables” phase that most toddlers go through. No matter how prepared I was, she’d eat the carrots one day and not the next. Then the apples were a no, and then bananas. How can meals remain positive in stressed out everyday life?

Over the next two months, I slowly worked my way through Headspace’s 10 Mindful Eating sessions. The pack used the “body scan” and “noting” mindfulness practice techniques. The body scan allows you to check in with your body and take note of how it feels. Noting gives directions on what to do when your brain wanders off and helps you to become more present.  

Here is what I learned from my Mindful Eating practice…

Lesson 1: Note long before you eat

The main revelation for me was that mindful eating can start long before you sit at the table. Even before you notice your hunger. For me, it begins in the store. What are you drawn to? What do you want to put in your cart? Why?

Clearly, some items go in out of habit. Others because we need something good for Friday night, right?

I was surprised about the effect of being present as I wandered around the aisles. With the autopilot off, I could make choices much more efficiently. Better yet, I thought through my purchases, bought less and unpacked the food without guilt.

This leads me to the second lesson:  

Lesson 2: No guilt

For me, as I suspect is the case for many of us, food is as much a source of guilt as a source of pleasure. Headspace’s meditation pack centered on Mindful Eating makes it very clear that regardless of any goals you might have with regards to changing your diet (or your weight), guilt should not be a part of the journey. The most important thing is being kind to yourself. It is tricky to notice cravings without feeling guilty about them. But noting without judging takes away the guilt very effectively.

As I walked over to a 7/11 one day, my thoughts went like this: “I want a latte and a bun right now. Why? I’m not really hungry. I’ll just have the coffee then.”

On other days I decided to have the bun. But I consciously, mindfully made the decision based on how I was feeling.

Lesson 3: Being conscious feels good

It’s a lot easier to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full when I’m present enough to realize what my body is telling me. For the past years, I’d wait to eat until I was starving and then shovel down enough to feel really uncomfortable afterwards. But I want my daughter to grow up with at least one shared meal a day (more during weekends), and for her to learn to enjoy regular, simple, everyday food. So: TV off, music and candles on, no nagging about the vegetables, eating comfortably. At least we manage the no TV and eating comfortably most of the time now.

Eating can be fun - and colorful, fun food makes eating more enjoyable. Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat.
Eating can be fun – and colorful, fun food makes eating more enjoyable. Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat.

Lesson 4: Eating can be fun

Tacos is the number one Norwegian dinner. Really. Friday night taco or Saturday taco. Even Wednesday-taco, as you wait for the weekend. I have nothing against tacos, but it’s a little too much sometimes.

As I took the time to be more present and conscious about what I was buying, cooking and eating, the process of making dinner regained its worth and I enjoyed it more. We tried several new recipes (not taco-related) and ate a lot more cabbage than ever before (not the toddler though). I made some really weird dinners, the occasional really good one, and we even made homemade buns.

All in all, the Mindful Eating pack was the perfect gentle nudge I needed it to be, without being a complete revolution to how and what I ate.