I Took A Photo of Two Chocolate Chips (Yes I Did) – Some Thoughts on Mindful Eating
It came to my attention recently that there is a relatively new app, YouAte, available for iOS. My attention was piqued when it was explained to me that the app was designed to make the user more mindful and aware of their food choices; I checked it out, also wanting to ensure that it was not a dieting app.
I am always looking for ways to increase my mindfulness around eating, but also not taking things to the level that I am so mindful that I become preoccupied with thoughts about food, or acting unnaturally in food situations, particularly in social settings.
Over time, I have experimented with journalling to reflect on food choices, making mental notes and sitting still with gut instincts to help discern whether I am hungry and stopping when I am sated.
Thoughtless Eating—So Easy!
But, despite my best intentions, sometimes I eat thoughtlessly. And I mean that literally, as in without much thought.
- Be putting away leftovers and eat something stuck to the pan (rather than compost it)
- Eat a little past full, just to finish what’s on my plate
- Eat something served to me, just because it was served to me
- Eat occasionally for emotional reasons without thinking about what is bothering me
- Eat because everyone else in the situation is
Self-Judgement (Let’s Not Make It Harder Than It Needs To Be)
And for those who have worked with me, most of you know that I’m the queen of emphasizing No Self Judgement. So even if I do something mindless, I make it a habit of reminding myself that:
- Self-judgement never helps anything (especially when it’s emotional reaction to something I ate)
- Emotional reactions come and go (“don’t sweat it”)
- Some situations may even require less mindful eating, particularly if there are other conflicting priorities (I am a pragmatist)
But because I’m generally down with:
- Eating when I’m physically hungry
- Stopping when I’m full
- Asking my body for guidance around matching food choices with body wisdom (Not the same as indulgence)
…I thought it would be fun to give the YouAte app a try. But I didn’t want to spoil my fun by writing a review. I wanted to keep things experiential and real.
Overview of The App
So, I started using the app. YouAte follows an interesting formula, asking you to make a goal, take a quick photo of everything you eat (that’s not water), tap to indicate whether it is “on path” or “off path” and then tapping answers to the questions:
- Why Did You Eat?
- How satisfying Was It?
- Where Did You Eat?
- How Was It Made?
- How Did It Make You Feel?
Setting a Mindful Eating Goal
Let’s start with the goal. I chose “Eat When Mostly Hungry” although it came out as “Eat Mostly Hungry” because it seems like there’s a 3-word limit. Go figure. I chose this goal because I wanted something that reflected reality: a goal that offered some wiggle room, gave some consideration to the situations that I find myself in, and didn’t set me up for failure. This goals still requires honest self-reflection but is meant to be realistic.
For example, I may only be slightly hungry in the mornings before leaving for work but I know I will be famished come 10am if I don’t eat something, and because it would be inappropriate (and weird) for me to be eating breakfast during someone’s counselling session, or too rushed to try to do so in between sessions, I have a modest breakfast at home.
As I mentioned above, the app then asks the user to take photos of everything that is eaten. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. My initial thoughts were “cool, so much easier than writing it down, and so much more honest and accurate.”
I still think this, but early into the photo-taking, I found myself in a very ridiculous situation. I was clearing off the table for supper and found some stray chocolate chips leftover from some previous baking. I instinctively pinched two and ate them then immediately thought, with surprise, “I’m eating chocolate chips!!” I really was surprised because I hadn’t intended to eat them. Then I thought, “Oh goodness, I need to take a picture of them!” Then, “Shoot! They’re in my stomach!” But then, “Phew, there’s still two left on the table, so I’ll take a picture of those.” And I did. And it was weird. I kept thinking, “I just took a picture of two chocolate chips!”
And since then, the whole concept of grazing has been met with a whole different level of awareness. And I have been finding that taking a photo of certain items, like chocolate chips, is just strange so why bother eating it?! There’s actually no need to judge the eating of the chocolate chips—it’s hard to build awareness if we’re judging and more liberating to see the humour in it instead.
On-Path or Off-Path
Once you’ve eaten, it’s then time to go back to the picture or pictures that you’ve taken and ask yourself if it’s “on-path” or “off-path” (more than one picture within a certain time frame gets stacked together and grouped as a “meal.”). This is up to the user’s discretion to decide what path the food consumed has taken, but the way I interpret this exercise is to self-reflect to see whether or not it’s in alignment with the goal that I set.
By the next morning, the user receives a percentage of ‘on path vs off path.’ This is a critical juncture of whether or not self-judgement will be let go of or reinforced. The key is awareness, not self-beratement.
This step takes less than a minute and is an opportunity to quickly reflect on why the eating happened, how satisfying it was, the circumstances (there is no ‘on the couch or comfy chair without TV’, unfortunately), the preparation involved and any resultant emotions. This quickly brings awareness to many key factors surrounding our relationship with food. There’s also space for notes.
I’m still using the app, which continues to be interesting. I’m definitely more aware of what I’m eating, why and how these choices make me feel. This is a good thing. And, there may become a time when I grow tired of this exercise or alternatively, am internalizing the principles more.
I would NOT recommend the app for folks with a history of eating disorders, due to possibility that structured food awareness could translate into food preoccupation and obsessional thinking.
This article should also not be taken as health advice and is not meant to replace the advice of your physician, dietician, therapist or other medical professional.
But as purely a mindfulness exercise, using YouAte has been an interesting (and sometimes ridiculous) journey!
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