Authors: Cuca Azinovic, CPCC, and Linn Throstensson DipNT, mNTOI, TCME Chair-Elect
In the newly formed definition of mindful eating by TCME, we speak of intention very early on.
"The practice of mindful eating is the intention to be compassionately present and aware of the eating experience. By cultivating mindful eating, we reduce judgment and are invited to connect with body, mind, and heart and honor the body's need for nourishment."
In the context of mindful eating, intention refers to the purpose or motivation behind practicing mindful eating.
But before we dive deeper into the connection between intentions and mindful eating, let us first understand what an intention is from the mindfulness perspective and the importance of working with intentions in our lives.
What is an intention?
Intention comes from the Latin word "intendere" or "intentio," both meaning "stretching or purpose." How interesting!
When we set an intention, we stretch our whole being - we have to engage all of ourselves to bring the mind and the heart together in one direction. And when our intentions are aligned with personal values, magic happens. They bring a deep sense of purpose into our lives.
Intentions are the bridge between our deepest desires and reality. They connect us with the real motivation behind the action rather than a goal to achieve against which we can end up judging ourselves. Intentions come from the heart, and goals come from the head. Unlike resolutions or goals, intentions focus on the process rather than the outcome. Connecting with our intentions is like setting the compass of our boat to point in the direction we choose to steer.
Therefore, it is the intention that matters. Like everything rooted in the heart, an intention is imbued with compassion. Meaning that there is no chance of failure.
To continue with the metaphor of the boat, if we go out sailing with the intention of arriving at another port, we might face a storm that obliges us to change the route. However, the intended direction still prevails.
One of the most vital advantages of setting intentions is to connect with the meaning behind the task. This is because our brains respond to intention-driven actions more powerfully than to mere task completion.
Intention can be at different levels of depth:
They can be broad and serve to set direction and live a life purposefully, e.g., What is my intention for the coming year?
Or more specific intentions for a particular task or time. e.g., What is my intention with the next bite? With this meditation? With this phone call? Or with this encounter?
As Sharon Salzberg claims, "Every decision we make, every action we take, is born out of an intention." But most of the time, we are not aware of it.
So, how do mindful eating and intentions connect, and why is it so important to work on the intention rather than the goal or resolution?
Setting up an intention when practicing mindful eating is a very gentle way to engage and sustain the practice. Intentions come after a pause, connecting with the body, opening the heart, and a brief moment of reflection.
"What do I need right now?"
"What am I really longing for?"
"What is here for me?"
When setting an intention before a meal, we are guiding where we want to place our attention and the attitude we want to hold as we go through the meal. Intentions are not dichotomous, "good or bad," "all or nothing," or "full or empty." They are not about thriving but staying connected to your center.
At the core, mindful eating is rooted in awareness. Our intention(s) sit in this space of awareness because all of the times we are not aware, we are reacting and responding out of habit or from a place of reactivity. The beauty of acting from a place of awareness is that it brings choice.
Let's take an example. Anna is working late at night in front of the computer, alone in the office, trying to finish a complex report. It is taking her much longer than expected, and she is exhausted.
Suddenly, she finds herself walking like a zombie to the office refrigerator to fetch a piece of cake left over from her coworker's birthday celebration. When she realizes what is happening, she stops and briefly reflects...
What am I looking for?
What do I really need?
Am I looking for a boost of energy to give it the last push?
Do I need a piece of cake to help me sweeten a little the bitter moment I am going through?
Do I feel really fed up and want to succumb to the pleasures of the mouth and deal with the guilt later?
What is really my intention with this piece of cake?
In all the different circumstances, the action may be the same–eating a piece of cake–but the intention completely changes how she can experience the result.
Every time we delay or stop the unconscious reactions and impulses that arise in the face of anxiety, we increase our ability to be present in the unpleasant and strengthen the muscle of containment and inner strength. With practice, this increases the possibility of choosing. And choice is freedom. Without awareness, there is no choice but only habitual reactions.
Sometimes, it is very difficult even to contemplate the possibility of choosing because the force of habit can be so great that it overshadows consciousness. In these cases, self-compassion is the best antidote to recovering and continuing on the path without additional and unnecessary burdens.
As we collectively navigate through this month cultivating our Mindful Eating practice, we invite you to explore practicing intentions.
And last, I would like to invite you to do a little experiment together.
Can you describe your mindful eating intention for next year in one sentence?...
Can you describe your mindful eating intention for next year in a few words?...
Can you describe your mindful eating intention for next year in one word?...
May you keep this word close to your heart next year to help you connect with your mindful eating intention.
Cuca Azinovic is a certified mindfulness teacher and deep transformation coach specializing in mindful eating and self-compassion, based in a little coastal town called Benicassim in Spain. She has a master's in Mindfulness in Health Contexts from Complutense University in Madrid (Spain).
She is one of three directors on the board of Nutritional Therapists of Ireland and is excited to be part of the continuing growth of The Centre for Mindful Eating.
When she is not found reading, writing, or in clinic, she tries spending most of her time in nature, with her dogs, with friends, and in deep conversations.
You will find more about her, her work, and her personal path over at www.straightforwardnutrition.com
Crane, R.S, Karunavira, Griffith, G. (2021). Resources for Mindfulness Teachers
Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373–386
Shapiro, S. L., & Schwartz, G. E. (2000). The role of intention in self-regulation: Toward intentional systemic mindfulness. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 253–273)