By Sierra Aceto

As the stress of the semester begins to bear down on campus and the anticipation of spring break gains speed, mindless and constricted eating begins to feed off of the anxieties and insecurities of countless young adults.

From inhaling vending machine snacks between study sessions to counting calories to trim down for a beach vacation, it’s easy to not be present while eating.

Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a writer for Psychology Today, defines mindfulness as “awareness without criticism or judgement.” While many mindful practices have been associated with various self-care practices (face masks, gratitude lists, hygge, etc.), our eating habits should not be an exception to this list.

What we eat affects our mood, energy levels and cognitive function throughout the day. When it comes down to it, food is calories, and calories are energy. Without the necessary energy, our bodies are unable to perform the hundreds of functions they do each day.

This includes studying for exams, watching our favorite shows and running through the airport to catch a flight in time for spring break.

So, what is “mindful eating?”

Mindful eating, often considered under the umbrella of intuitive eating, involves an intentional focus on being present and cognizant of our body and our food during a meal.  

This means putting down the phone, closing the laptop and pausing the homework to concentrate on the food and all the sensations that come along with eating it. When we become aware of the colors, textures, temperatures and flavors of our food, we tune in to how it makes us feel both physically and emotionally.

When we mindlessly graze on a bag of chips while watching TV, we look down to find the bag empty. When we feel stressed about a deadline or an overpacked schedule, it can result in emotional eating or a total loss of appetite.

While we should never judge ourselves when events like these occur, we can begin to find space to work through these difficult emotions by paying more attention to how we’re treating our bodies in times of trouble and times of peace.

Fulfilling different forms of hunger

By sitting alone with our food and concentrating on how each bite makes us feel, we can gain a better understanding of our hunger levels. Becoming more well-acquainted with hunger levels helps to inform us as to why we’re eating in a certain situation. Is it boredom? Is it stress? Is it just “time” to eat?

Whether the answers to these questions are “yes” or “no” doesn’t determine whether you should eat, but rather they remind us to consistently check in with our bodies and work to properly fuel and care for them in the best way possible.

It is worth noting that food should not be categorized as “good” or “bad” or even “healthy” and “unhealthy.” If we’re going to ask ourselves any question after eating, it should be, “Did that make me feel good?”

The beauty of feeling good is that it can be defined in a multitude of ways. It could mean your body feels refreshed and energized because you had a serving of fruits or vegetables, or it could mean your psyche feels the pleasant release of dopamine from eating a piece of candy or a warm bowl of mac and cheese.

Never without obstacles

In a frequently distracted society, refraining from any kind of content consumption while we eat might seem like a daunting task. It can be scary to sit with our emotions without anything to mask over them.

We live in a culture rampant with diet fads and “quick fixes.” Despite the body positivity movements that have been trying to shut down these harmful trends, sitting with our emotions might still feel like eating across from your worst fears and anxieties.  

Take it slow. Try five minutes without any distractions, then take a break. Mindful eating is not meant to be another stressor in a habitually stressful life. Rather, it is intended to help you reconnect with your body and gradually shift the negative relationships you may have with food or your body.

Mindfulness, in general, is never meant to scorn — only to soothe the scars that unrealistic societal expectations have left behind.