How to practice mindful eating when you’re a workaholic

Photo by Ethan Hu on Unsplash

What are your biggest distractions when it comes to eating?

  • Phone
  • TV
  • Conversations
  • Thoughts
  • Worries
  • Counting calories???

For me, it’s work. I’m a workaholic. I can’t stop thinking about it even when I sit down to eat. Ideas keep rushing in. Mountains of tasks are waiting. I need to be writing something, reading something, getting something done.

Mindful eating is such a beautiful concept. You sit down to eat without distractions. Simply immerse yourself in the experience and get the most out of it.

But let’s face it, we don’t have the luxury of eating mindfully, especially with work and millions of to-dos on our agenda. Not to mention eating is boring. Why should we pay attention to it at all?

Why should you pay attention to eating?

First of all, it’s the act that nourishes your body and sustains living. Eating allows you to absorb the nutrients from food which provides energy for daily activities. It’s a truly miraculous process. You only think of it as mundane because you do so often.

Second, we now all live in a rush, going from one task to another, whether it’s work, nurturing relationships, and relaxing. We forget how to appreciate little things in our life. We take them for granted. Sometimes we lose touch with who we are and what we really want to do. Practicing mindful eating can help to slow you down so that you don’t take things for granted anymore. You’ll take note of the world around you and feel more content with your life.

The third is because:

“The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done with mindfulness” — Thich Nhat Hanh.

Eating may seem lackluster but if you pay attention to it, you may get a lot of joy. Happiness comes from paying attention, not from seeking more attention.

Why can’t you eat mindfully?

A lot of distractions can get in the way — your thoughts, TV, phone notifications, conversations, worries, judgment, fear.

And since we live in a work-oriented culture where we define ourselves with our work. We bend our back every day to grind the stone, either out of love or obligation. It’s a means to the end. It’s our life. Our salvation.

Working becomes embedded in our thinking pattern. When you do something else not “work”, and it doesn’t engage you, your mind will shift back to thinking about work.

So, maybe the question isn’t “Why can’t you eat mindfully?” but rather “Why don’t you like to focus on the act of eating?” and “Why you can’t take your mind off work?”

Let’s answer the latter question first: Why can’t you take your mind off work?

It’s not the workload. It’s not our boss handing us too many tasks. It’s not other people failing to make things work, so you have to do everything on your own.

It’s your failure to prioritize. You don’t know what matters to you most so you end up working on everything. Or you try to accomplish too many goals at the same time. All are stealing your time, and not everything you do is effective.

Learn to prioritize and you’ll see the workload much lighter. You can stop thinking about work all the time.

How to get work out of the way?

Working is great. A wonderful addiction. Especially when you like your work or what you do brings value to others.

But like any addiction, working has its dark side too. It can drain your energy, stresses you out, and causes you to neglect yourself.

Yet, I’m not telling you to work less. What I mean is you should set up work in a way that when it’s time to eat, you can sit down to enjoy your meal without having to think about work.

That’s a real challenge. Even when you know the principles of time management, it’s hard to follow them at all times.

But like any skill, you practice getting better.

Here’s a couple of practices you can try to get work out of the way:

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Clear goals can save you a lot of time. Instead of spreading yourself too thin, you can focus on a few tasks that contribute to your success.

How to set clear goals? Start by having a clear purpose for your goal. Know what and why you want to achieve something. Don’t just say you want to make more money or get more followers. Get deeper. Say you want to make money to travel and buy stuff when you want to. Or you want to reach more people by writing quality content on your blog.

Another aspect of having clear goals is to focus on a few or one goal at a time. Too many goals can get muddled together and ruin your entire effort. To save time and effort, try to tackle one goal only.

If right now you have too many goals, take a step back. Look at the overview picture. Pick 1 or 2 things you want to accomplish in life. It could be writing a meaningful blog post every week, growing your blog subscribers, or developing a skill. Just make sure it’s something you care about, something you probably miss if you don’t do it today.

Then, you should make a simple statement of that goal. A 1–2 sentence statement that you can fit in the pocket will do. You could also put a time frame to it.

As you learn something new, feel free to adjust it.

This is something I learn from “Zen to Done” by Leo Babauta. Might sound like Leo’s “fan girl” but I like everything he wrote. Focus, Zen to Done, The little book of contentment to name just a few I couldn’t recommend enough.

What I liked about Zen To Done is that Leo combined the insights from popular productivity books “Getting things done”, “7 habits of highly effective people” and his own experience to create the guide to 10 habits of maximizing your daily productivity.

One habit that I like is to write down 3 big rocks for the day before starting it.

Now that you have a goal, make a master plan of what you need to do to achieve it. You can add any ideas which align with your goal. Before getting down to work each morning, review your master plan, and write down 3 big rocks you want to accomplish for the day.

Why three? Because it’s the most sensible number of tasks you can handle in one day without getting burnt out. And because life is full of surprises, limiting the number of tasks will leave room for you to deal with unexpected events.

A common time management trap people tend to fall into is to set time to work on a task. For example, 2 hours of writing, 1 hour of reading. The thing is 2 hours of work don’t equal 2 hours of quality. During those 2 hours, you could be fidgeting and getting distracted.

A better way is to manage your activity, not time. Instead of framing your working hours, simply focus on the task for as long as you can. Set certain rules for these focus hours. For example, no opening multiple tabs, no switching between social media and work, no texting or reading emails (except for breaks). To maximize focus, keep the phone out of reach and free your working space of all clutter.

That said, if scheduling is important to you, feel free to set specific times for certain tasks. But overall, forget how much time you’re gonna spend and try to stay in the flow for as long as possible.

Your energy drops significantly after lunch. So try to get at least 2 out of 3 of your most important tasks (Big Rocks) out of the way before the mid-day meal.

I’m a morning person. My productivity peaks around 9–10 in the morning and deteriorates after lunch. So I always try to get most of my writing done before having lunch. In the afternoon, I’ll schedule less energy-consuming tasks like reading, checking social media, emails, or just “chill”. (Well, I lied, sometimes due to studies and personal commitments, I couldn’t get my writing out of the way in the morning, then I found I’m also a productive night writer and write until late at night).

Life has a lot of surprises for you. So my advice to you is: Be prepared for surprises. Set your priorities, and make time for what is important.

Now work is away. Time to eat. How to eat without distractions?

Here’s what works for me:

How to eat mindfully

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

What I try to do is to set a time to stop working. For example, if I have lunch at 12 pm, I’ll wrap up work before 10 or 11 at the latest. Then I would go and prepare for lunch.

The best thing about cooking your own meal is really hungry and can’t wait to dig in. Just kidding! I guess preparing your own meal is like bridging your hunger sensation with the eating experience. You’ll feel much eager towards it if you take the time to cook the meal yourself.

A confession: I rarely wrap up work at the set time. Most often I get so immersed in work that I forget to have lunch at a certain hour.

Thus, I try to keep meal preparation as simple as possible. Thankfully, I don’t have a high standard for meals and can finish cooking within 20–30 minutes. I also find cooking with friends or your loved ones can save a lot of time to prepare meals.

But if you don’t like to cook, that’s fine too. We all have lazy days and let’s admit it, eating out is great. Other people are much better cooks than you. Also, it might be easier to pay attention to the act of eating when the food is tasty.

Another tip to enjoy your meal mindfully is to eat only when you are hungry.

Why wait until you’re hungry to eat? Because it makes you eager for the act of eating. It’s the only food you think about and you’ll stop thinking about work or what it is you’re doing to snuff it down. This also allows you to approach each meal with a positive feeling.

Before eating, take the time to look at the food and breathe in its aroma while eating. While eating, allow yourself to enjoy the food in full without distractions. If possible, have your meal with a friend or loved ones. This will prevent you from getting bored and surfing the phone mindlessly out of habit.

The only risk that you’d get lost in conversations and not paying attention to eating. But try to focus on the meal, and maybe shift the focus of the conversations on the food you’re eating.

Common advice you get when practicing mindful eating is to chew your food 30 times before swallowing.

Let’s face it, it’s not working. First, chewing is boring, why should you pay attention to it? Second, isn’t there more to eating than just chewing?

Eating is also about enjoying the goodness of food. So let the taste of food guide you. Pay attention to the taste, texture, aroma of your food. Eat with all your senses — see, hear, smell, feel, touch. Don’t count your chewing. There’s no need to be. Focus on the taste and you’ll automatically chew each spoonful of liquids before swallowing.

Even if all this fails and you fall back to your thinking habit while eating, don’t take it hard on easy. After all, it’s a practice. Practice takes time to master.

Instead of beating yourself up, praise yourself for giving it a try. Know that when you know that you’re thinking, you’re paying attention, and it’s a good start.

All in all, let yourself enjoy the experience without judgment. Practice it every day, even for just 5 minutes at mealtime. Remember to slow down and take time to taste your food. Watch your thoughts as they drift by but don’t react to them.

But most importantly, organize your work so that it won’t merge with other aspects of yourself. But when in doubt, follow this principle: Less is more.

The less you commit yourself to it, the easier it is to work and enjoy your work.

I write about writing, mindful living, and self-improvement topics |

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