A Beginner’s 101 Guide to Mindful Eating

Can you remember the last time you sat and ate food without any distraction or preoccupation? When did you last sit with your meal, letting go of your obsession with constant multi-tasking? If you asked me these questions, I’d have to rack my brains too. I had not a clue about mindful eating and I […]

Can you remember the last time you sat and ate food without any distraction or preoccupation? When did you last sit with your meal, letting go of your obsession with constant multi-tasking? If you asked me these questions, I’d have to rack my brains too. I had not a clue about mindful eating and I had long crossed the stage when I could even remember what “mealtimes” were supposed to look like when I didn’t have my laptop in front of me as I chewed on my rajma chawal or – at the very least – had the television on in the background.

Simply put, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually savour my meals or snacks anymore. My lack of self-awareness made me believe that I was always hungry (even when I wasn’t actually) and I wouldn’t think twice before stuffing myself full with anything that came my way. The repercussions were dire. I was either too hungry to focus or too full to stay awake. I was losing my intuitive connection with my gut. In addition, I was also increasingly unaware of my hunger signals disguised as cries for help. 

We find it convenient to eat while working or watching Netflix or surfing through Facebook. In fact, we have normalised it. It is also not surprising that we consider eating secondary to other tasks. We’re conditioned to not eat alone. We innately believe that our eyes and ears should be assigned other tasks while eating. 

Clearly, this isn’t what mealtimes were intended for – to be eroded away by multi-tasking. In fact, research has shown that meal multi-tasking also adversely impacts our appetite and digestion – or more specifically, our Taste Perception. So, how do we get out of this labyrinth? Mindful eating could be your answer.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the quality of being fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment. This means we’re a) free from distraction or judgment, and b) aware of our thoughts and feelings without spiralling in them.

We associate the idea of living in the moment with experiences we have been waiting for – going for that trip you have been longing for, spending time with your loved ones or taking a day off from work. We want those moments to last forever so we dive deep into everything revolving around that experience. What happens after those longed-for moments pass by? We just go back to how we were. It’s instinctive, but that’s where we’re probably going wrong.

Mindfulness is being aware of your actions, thoughts and movements in a situation. You don’t have to detach yourself from your life to experience mindfulness. Instead, we need to embrace it in our daily actions – to tune in to our thoughts, feel relieved, and to work towards mental and emotional awareness.


What is mindful eating?

How do you feel when you order your favourite meal from your favourite restaurant? You relish every bite in-the-moment, hear the crunch as you had imagined, savour the aroma, and most importantly, feel satisfied. Your takeaway, then, is the experience of immersing yourself in the eating process and this is how you cherish your food every time you think of it. This is mindful eating. You have experienced this before, and have practised this every time you visit there, and you would probably remember this as the last time you ate a meal without distraction. Adda Bjarnadóttir, a registered nutritionist in Iceland shares that distractions are the first issue to address,

I think the most important first step towards mindful eating habits is getting rid of distractions during mealtimes. Turn off the TV, leave your phone in another room, and make an effort to focus on the meal itself. Look at the food in front of you, take in the smell, the colors, and the sensations it produces, and make an effort to be present during the meal.

You can apply mindful eating to every bite you take in your day. As you are aware of the food you are consuming and engaging all five senses, you are transforming your relationship with food and your mental health. Yes, you read it right, all five senses.

How do you engage your senses while eating?

To experience a finger-licking good moment, you’ve to live it exactly the way it sounds. Finger-licking good. My takeaway from KFC ad is not the finger-looking good chicken, but how they engage their senses to experience that feeling. It probably tempts you to try their chicken and crave it as if you “need” it, but you can create this delightful experience with every food you eat. Next time when you look at food, try taking a few moments and indulging into a soulful experience. Your gut will thank you, and so will your mental health. Here’s how:

  1. Sight: Look and compliment the food in front of you. How colourful does it look? What is the portion size? What is the first thing you will go for from the platter? 
  2. Smell: Bring the spoon close to your nose and smell it. Can you guess the flavours dominating the platter? Does it make you hungrier? Does the aroma take you back to something? Do you feel nostalgic?
  3. Touch: This is your finger-licking good moment. Touch the food and feel the texture. Many cultural groups tend to have food with their bare hands, without cutlery, no matter how messy it gets. If you get a chance, go for it. 
  4. Taste: Does the taste complement your sight, smell and touch experience? Chew your food slowly and feel the crunch or mushiness from every bite. Does it melt in your mouth? Does it feel fresh with every crunch? For you to be able to experience mindfulness, chew your food at least 16 times (Pro tip: it will help with your digestion).
  5. Sound: What does it sound like? Does it create music with every bite you take? It may not do so literally, but consider ruminating over whether it is squishy like jelly or crunchy like lettuce?

This exercise is not like other diet regimes or fads. This is simply the process of conscious eating. It surely constrains distractions, but that is the first step to adopting a healthy lifestyle. Food fuels your mind and body, so it makes sense for you to be aware of what you are inserting in the temple of your body? Once you practice it, you will feel great about treating your gut, body and brain right by letting them experience the same awareness by osmosis.

Mindful eating practices

Mindfulness is a gift we give ourselves to keep our mind and bodies connected to the present. Do you eat in a rush or get lost in thought spirals? Well, we have news. Such overthinking fools our minds into believing that the mere act of eating has nothing to do with being fulfilled but is supplementary to other actions and activities. This is why we fall prey to binge-eating while watching Netflix or stress eat or feel cranky even after consuming a healthy meal.

A simple pleasure of mindful eating can make you aware of how much food your body needs for the day. This will, in turn, lead to weight management, improved energy, more focus and release of serotonin – the feel-good hormones that make you feel positive about yourselves. 

So, what happens when this relationship with food and the act of eating is not nurtured? To put it broadly, we look at food very negatively.

Negative thinking practices during eating like, “this will only make me fat”, “I am feeling guilty of having this”, “I have no other choice but to live with this” etc. lead to stress. Your body releases cortisol aka the “stress hormone”, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, thus, storing the food as fat. No matter what nutritional value the meal provides, even if it is healthy, it will be counted as fat to respond to the “fight or flight” situation you’ve created with these thoughts. 

Chronically stressed? Cortisol can lead to an increase in appetite. This is the primary reason you tend to binge-eat, unbeknownst to the fact that it is only making you worse: physically, emotionally and mentally.

Mindful eating can guide you to be aware of the caloric requirements of your body. You will be more aware of yourself, your thoughts, your body and emotions. Your body gives you cues of when you are hungry or feeling satiated, all you need is your senses to be aware of those requirements. Embracing your needs without judgements can help you answer, “When are you feeling hungry?”, “What does your body need?”, “Am I enjoying the food?”, “Is the portion size enough or do I need more food on my plate?”

As Bjarnadóttir explains, “Taking a step back and looking at the big picture it’s easy to see how mindful eating habits will contribute to better mental health. Simply taking time to wind down before a meal, focusing only on the food in front of you and eating it with attention and without judgment, will promote lower stress levels, decrease your eating speed, improve your digestion, and build a healthier relationship with food overall.

Redefining your relationship with food

What we eat and how we eat defines us. You can prioritise yourself by listening to your gut and its requirements. Very likely, we wouldn’t associate stomach aches to our eating habits but to the food itself. It is easy to blame the food in such instances, instead of being cognizant. This is the point where we take a turn to the road more travelled – our obsession with food, weight and body shape

Thoughts and actions linked to being overweight even when you’re dangerously underweight, excessive exercising, forced vomiting and binge eating until painfully full, uncontrollable binge eating in short periods of time are a few eating patterns that grow and breed in such conditions. Everyone is unique and so is their eating pattern. Understanding your unique cycle could bring you in sync with your daily life and actions. The more you run away from it, the more you let your obsession haunt you.  

My relationship with food changed after I started cooking my meals every day. It didn’t start out this way, but I ended up enjoying the activity of cooking. Now, with time, I understand my body better, realise when I am full and satiated, and if at all, I enjoyed the food. I realised that my eating pattern was different; I tend to get hungry every three hours. It could be a different revelation for you. The point is that mindfulness can make you aware of your eating pattern. Then, it can help you adjust how you can cater to it.

Most of the time, I would punish myself by feeling guilty for not having healthy meals during weekends but associating food with punishment only made it worse. Before we blame the food for making us feel tired, unclear, lost and drowsy, we should probably try to understand how we perceive foods and consume them. The narrative gets us obsessed with being thin or starting a new diet regime. Pulling ourselves down with negative thoughts about food only ruins our relationship with our mind, body, food choices and eating habits.

We are probably aware of good and bad food choices, and associate feelings to each of those categories. But for once, take a step back and associate good and bad eating habits with those feelings. What’s on our plate is equally as important as how we consume it. Now when you are heading to the kitchen to grab your food or unpacking a takeaway, look at it, smell it and thank your food for charging you up for the day.


Keen to learn more about mindful eating? Get started with these resources to kick start your journey with mindful eating habits:


  1. Mindful eating with Mayo – Karen Mayo
  2. Eat what you love, love what you eat – Michelle May
  3. Mindful eating – Natasha Lantz


  1. Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers Psy.D
  2. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
  3. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall, Gary McAvoy, Gail Hudson

Featured Image Credits: Image by MarkOblivious from Pixabay 

Guest Blog: The young have a lot to deal with during the pandemic

From a global pandemic to climate change, the youth of our beloved nation has experienced a lot – from loss of work, academic pressures and uncertainties, hindered outdoor sports and activities, socializing et al – as they find themselves in unprecedented times with the declaration of repetitive lockdowns followed by social distancing norms. With over 1.16 million confirmed cases in India at the time of writing (and counting), no amount of effort put into planning, strategising or preempting challenges seems enough. All of this impacts our mental health.

Deemed to emerge into one of the nation’s – nay, world’s – most difficult viruses to contain, the newly rampant and virulent strain of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing the way the youth perceive life as we know it. Maintaining social distancing as a necessary mean to ‘flatten the curve’, the youth can be seen taking up numerous online activities, including accessing social media, playing games, online classes and hobby tutorials, digital news portals and books, apart from spending some quality time with their family. However, not all of the youth is able to brace themselves from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the more hopeful parts of our response has been the attention paid to mental health since the initial days of the pandemic. Here’s the thing: all of us are at risk for the virus and that can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. Compounded with socio-economic problems of migration, loss of jobs, and various other kinds of grief, our mental health has gone for a toss. For those with pre-existing struggles with depression, mood disorders, etc getting medication had also been challenging in the beginning.

In a way, this is the perfect storm. Loneliness, disruption in routines, lack of ready access to resources, loss of human touch – the discomfort is a specific brand of grief. With the academic years upended, their future is also uncertain. Humans can build resilience against uncertainty but prolonged exposure to this magnitude of uncertainty can be distressing.

As we make plans for the future – the “after” – we need to ensure we make provisions for the healing the young have to do, or else they’ll be playing catch-up for the rest of their lives.

About The Author:

Aatish JaisinghaniAn HR aficionado by passion, a publicist by profession and a writer with an ‘occasional’ block, Aatish Jaisinghani is an ardent health advocate! He began his employment journey at a very young age when he was hired by an online business start-up that helped to pave the way for his further employable skills today. As a disciple of the art and science of Human Resources, he has researched and analyzed leading journals and studies of modern HR management. He has been featured on Forbes India, People Matters, Reputation Today, Youth Inc. Magazine among numerous other portals. Currently working for a leading PR Agency in Mumbai, he handles large-scale, high profile events and celebrities. He has come a long way from a fresh graduate averse to employment!

He can be contacted here.

The series under Guest Blogs reflect the author’s own views. The Mental Health Mirror does not claim ownership over – or expertise over – the contents of such posts.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Elderly Mental Health: Looking At The Gaps in The Conversation

Depression is not a consequence of old age. Here’s why elderly mental health is a concern for society as a whole and how we can go beyond the politics of ‘othering.’

In faded trousers and plaid
shirts they came,
tired and worn,
common in their fame,
each one the others only
remaining friend.
Life starts out as a newborn baby
and slowly becomes old men.

(From the poem Old men in the park by John Malcolm Pouch)

All poetry about old age conjures up a vivid image of being — of growing up and growing old. We are made acutely aware of the inevitability of the process. We cannot escape growing old, yet society places little emphasis on our emotional, psychological, and social well-being in the later years. In fact, in many cases, depression in older adults goes undiagnosed1. Instead, it is often brushed off as a natural by-product of ageing or confused with other illnesses. 

Today, as we slowly break the stigma around mental well-being, mental illness and the like, the young receive a fair share of advocacy. But when it comes to the mental health of the elderly, the public discourse seems to be limited to cognitive and intellectual impairments like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. What can we do to make it more inclusive? And what may be holding us back? Let’s see.

Elderly Mental Health: Putting together the words

Currently, 600 million people around the world belong to the 60+ age group. This number will double in the next five years. By 2050, the population of older adults is likely to hit the two-billion mark, with developing countries accounting for a majority share2

The WHO estimates that depression affects around 7 per cent3 of the global elderly population today. What further compounds the issue is the fact that the aged are more susceptible to other physical and cognitive disabilities. So, the slope is rapidly rising without adequate preparedness to handle the disease magnitude on many fronts. 

It does not help that several misconceptions and stereotypes have marred our perception of the ageing process. Everywhere, we portray growing old as an expected sadness or as an everyday ennui. More often than not, we assume ageing would bring an unnecessary crankiness. Considering that depression is the most common mental health disorder affecting the elderly, this narrative ought to take a sharp u-turn. Instead of viewing older people as the ‘other’ and assuming that they are alien to us, adopting the approach of ‘bridging and belonging’4 could do wonders in shaping the conversation and creating adequate mental health interventions. 

‘Othering’ on ageist Grounds

everyone is susceptible to experience ageism if they live long enough

In sociology, we understand othering as a process of stigmatisation or objectification of another person or group in a negative light. This comparison or exclusion is usually made to justify one’s own positive identity. Of course, no one is comfortable acknowledging their privilege. In this case, however, the impact is seen across ages. How? Negative societal views and stereotypical representations of old age affect people across the age continuum. The elderly end up feeling alienated, while the younger people internalise these ageist attitudes. The result? It hampers their self-perception as they themselves grow older.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Research suggests that ageism may even be the most pervasive of the “isms,” surpassing sexism and racism. According to Ayalon and Tesch-Römer (2017), “Age changes with time and people are likely to change age group affiliation, with the passage of time. Hence, in contrast to the other two isms, everyone is susceptible to experience ageism if they live long enough.” And it can take many shapes, such as prejudicial viewpoints, discriminatory practices, and institutional policies that perpetuate negative beliefs5.

Moreover, the current narrative expects older adults to fade into the background upon retiring. Why? They are no longer the members of the so-called productive workforce. Such perceptions, policy neglect, and the consequent marginalisation could prove to be more unsettling in a country like India, which loves to turn the spotlight on its demographic dividend. This ‘us versus them’ thinking pervades the mental health landscape and policies and creates a seemingly irreparable rift.

Figure: Levy’s PEACE Model6

The Indian context

India is home to 104 million older adults, who represent 8 per cent of the country’s total population. The figure is expected to reach 20 per cent by the end of 20507

In the traditional joint family structure, both young and old were absorbed with mutual harmony. But as Indian families undergo the process of nuclearisation with limited outlets to absorb the old parents, the feelings of loneliness, rejection, and social isolation also come to the fore. As a matter of fact, even in residential and community care institutions, senior citizens face disrespect and are habitually treated as a burden. 

At the same time, being with the family does not guarantee emotional support or social security. The elderly can also face many forms of exploitation and abuse from their near and dear ones. 

The bigger picture, The Way Out

We need to adopt a multi-faceted approach to promote the general mental health and quality of life of the seniors. The presence of older people and the problems they encounter in their daily life have far-reaching impacts on the structure and functions of the economy and society. Also, “old people” are who we all will become, which further reinstates that elderly mental health is a psychosocial and structural problem. So, how can we address it?

Medical research is an integral part of the solution architecture, but we also need interventions that go beyond just psychopathology. Our respect for the elderly should translate into their representation across popular culture and the media. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned advocates can further negative generalisations, and positive messaging is inherent to creating greater awareness around this issue.

Therefore, we need to question the depiction of the elderly as helpless victims.

Photo by Eddy Klaus on Unsplash

Tweaking the existing systems

We need to come up with innovative solutions to combat elderly loneliness. For example, Age UK runs a unique Befriending Service that pairs older adults with a friend who visits them once or twice a week for a cup of tea, a recreational activity, or an outing. Alternatively, the local centres can arrange such friendly conversations over the phone or online. Of course, we will need to consider the fabric of Indian family systems and adapt the idea, but it is a good starting point nevertheless.

Another example of a successful social integration programme in the UK is the University of Third Age (U3A). It organizes learning and development courses specifically for older adults who want to pick up a new skill or simply share their knowledge with others. Technological advancement has made possible the creation of a nationwide network and discussion forums where they can exchange ideas about arts, crafts, gardening, literature, computers, or anything else of their interest. We could learn from these programmes and come up with initiatives that address the Indian context.

After all, this is stating the obvious: we need improved access to personal and psychological counselling services. Talking to trained therapists can provide a judgement-free environment and help us find ways of dealing with our emotional issues. 

Our solutions should embody the values of compassion, company and care to make room for everyone’s struggles. 

After all, we all deserve to live with dignity and assert our right to holistic care, irrespective of our age and other biological or social labels. 


  1. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0314
  2. https://www.who.int/ageing/features/faq-ageism/
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/nov/08/us-vs-them-the-sinister-techniques-of-othering-and-how-to-avoid-them
  5. https://www.st-va.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5550624/#CR3
  6. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/58/2/226/2632116
  7. https://www.helpageindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ELDER-ABUSE-IN-INDIA-2018-A-HelpAge-India-report.pdf

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.

Previous Post:

Depression: Gratitude For The Better Days

I suffer from depression and anxiety. I donʼt say that to elicit pity or condolences. I also don’t intend to make it sound like a bumper sticker expression (although I’d like to live in a world where it is acceptable to). Itʼs just a fact, not a statement or judgment or disappointment. Mental health is a continuum and I often fluctuate on the harsher end of the spectrum. There have been days when I wake up with puffy eyes after having barely slept because of thoughts gone awry, and there have been days when I sleep through the best bit of the sunshine. My analogy of choice for the vicious cycle of a depressive episode is drowning; it feels like a dementor is drowning me. To begin with, I fight it. Then I realise it is too powerful, so I let it drown me into unfamiliar waters. This is usually followed by a dose of self-blame. I am robbed of self-pity, the only redeeming part of sadness.

Depression is crippling as it is, and coupled with anxiety, my senses teeter between reckless hyperactivity and withdrawal inertia. It is confusing, lonely, isolating by its very nature, so on days when I am able to witness a sunrise, or wake up without an attack of intrusive thoughts, I am overcome with an uncanny sense of gratitude.

Depression has been a hard taskmaster and teacher. But it has taught me an important lesson: to be grateful for the days when I am not at the receiving end of this inexplicable suffering. If I can trace the genesis of my sadness, I am grateful ‒ sad, but grateful that I can walk into the battleground armed with this knowledge. On good days, I am grateful to be alive and functioning. This gratitude has been my torch to kindness. Because our mental health is so invisible yet inevitable, we never know what another person is going through, and how else can we cure this but by being gentle with each other?

Photo by DC Irwin on Unsplash

Practicing conscious gratitude has made me sensitive to acts of kindness, like that time I couldnʼt bring myself to get out of bed, and a friend offered to cook for me. Or when a stranger noticed my bruised foot and saved a seat for me in the subway. When I recollect all the times I have been on the receiving end of kindness, I realise it is not a premeditated, grand gesture. Instead, I am convinced that kindness exists in the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Itʼs in the actions that make our life easier, in that moment. Life is hard. Kindness is as simple as being there for a friend when they are having a time coping with life.

The thing about kindness is that it is a very actionable practice: you can always be exercising kindness. It is tangible more often than it isnʼt. But that doesnʼt discount how hard it is. Because we cannot be kind in a surprising grand gesture, we need to be consistent and dependable.

You need to do it every day, that is the hard part.

If we were just a wee bit gentler to each other, refusing to judge others through a metaphorical monocle, so much heartbreak, so much suffering could be avoided!

I often look back at my formative school days. Each time, I wonder why we were never taught empathy. Was it because it was assumed empathy is inherently and instinctively ingrained in us? I realise that the only way kindness can be taught is by example and experience ‒ so perhaps our curriculum copped out and chose to teach us unambiguous morals like helping an elderly cross the road, or watering the plants. Kindness and empathy on the other hand are hard ‒ what about helping an elderly cross the road when you are running late for work and could lose out on your promotion? What about watering the plants in someone elseʼs garden even though they unknowingly killed some of yours?

It’s a grey area. and we might end up spending a lifetime answering these questions, but on days I wake up without that melancholic feeling, without that crushing feeling of self-doubt and inexplicable sadness, I am incredibly grateful.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email jo@samaritans.org.uk) in the UK.