“Training your mind to be in the present moment is the #1 key to making healthier choices.” ― Dr.Susan Albers Psy.D.
How do you eat? Eating mindfully rather than mindlessly can reap huge benefits for your health, mood state and enjoyment of food. Mindful eating isn't a diet or a fad it is simply about paying attention, listening to your body's needs, food choices and how you eat. When you eat your food do you really taste it? Do you actually look at it? Did you really want it and are you even enjoying it? With so many different types of distractions constantly pulling for our attention, we may be falling out of the habit of being fully present with the food that we eat, meaning we often have a conceptual experience of our food rather than savouring the actual experience and only eating until full. You might think that watching the t.v, working on the laptop, reading or looking at the phone whilst eating and not being present with our food is ok, that eating is simply a means to an end, sustenance when needed, but actually how we eat is just as important as what we eat for maintaining a healthy digestive system and a good relationship with food.
Read on to find out the benefits of mindful eating, a mindful eating practice to follow and tips for eating more mindfully.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
Make better food choices
Now, I am a lover of all things chocolatey and one of my favourite things as a treat to eat is a bag of minstrels slowly and mindfully, but I make a conscious choice to do that rather than just grabbing a pack and eating it out of habit (although I am not perfect and do find myself doing that sometimes). Mindful awareness helps you to stop and think about what type of food you need, if you are just rushing and mindlessly throwing a sandwich together out of habit when in fact you might have an extra few minutes to make something more nutritious.
Top Tip: Pause to think clearly about the type of food you need, the time you have and if the food you are reaching for is the best choice. Try to include as many colours of the rainbow in your food and notice what effect this has on you for making a healthy choice.
Eating for hunger and not your emotions
Eating too much, too little or for comfort is a very common coping mechanism for underlying distress. If you are in emotional distress and worried about your eating, make an appointment with your GP for a chat or get in touch with the charity BEAT for support and advice.
Mindful awareness when you notice you are automatically reaching out for food will help you to determine whether you are eating because of hunger or if you are eating out of boredom, sadness or loneliness etc. If you are emotionally eating, doing something more productive in the form of self-care will be far more beneficial.
Top Tip: Automatically reaching for food? Notice, pause and ask yourself, “Why am I reaching for this?” “Could I be doing something else instead?” When you notice the urge to eat take a mindful pause to check if it is hunger or emotion and if you are not hungry, what could you do to help you through the emotion or boredom?
An opportunity to pause & calm the mind
Life is busy, we are all busy people, but there is one act we must do in order to survive and that is to eat. If you don't have time in your day for mindfulness practice or self-care, then see your meal and snack times as an opportunity to simply stop and pause with your food. Switch off your distractions and allow yourself to be fully present to eat your food for the sake of eating your food. Engaging all of the senses to be fully present with your food becomes a meditation practice in itself and calms the mind. What's not to love, relaxation and food at the same time!
“Don’t chew your worries, your fear, or your anger. If you chew your planning and your anxiety, it’s difficult to feel grateful for each piece of food. Just chew your food.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh,How to Eat
Top Tip: Engage your senses and give 100% attention to the meal. Notice what can you see, touch, feel, smell, hear and taste. See below for my guided audio on how to engage the senses.
Did you know that digestion starts not in the stomach or even in the mouth, but by you looking at your food? When you look at your food you send a signal to the brain to say 'get ready, food is coming'! Saliva will begin to enter the mouth with the enzymes needed to break down the food in readiness for the next stage of digestion.
Top Tip: Take time to look at the colours, shapes and textures of your food as you create it and then eat it to fully prepare your digestive system before every bite.
Mindful eating isn't about eating less or dieting but eating the right amount of food for you. The trouble is we tend to eat very fast, barely chewing food before it is swallowed down and as I mentioned about the body is often not ready to receive the food if we haven't taken the time to look at properly first. This can create an imbalance in between our stomach being full before our brain has had a chance to signal to the body to stop eating. When we are hungry we release the hormone Ghrelin to signal we need to eat, once the stomach is full we then release the hormone Leptin to signal we need to stop eating. The trouble is it takes around 20 minutes for that signal to reach the brain and so it becomes very easy to overeat during that window.
A study in 2013 found that people who practiced mindful eating ate smaller portions but remember it's not about eating less but eating the right amount for you.
Top Tip: Slow down, look at your food, put your cutlery down after every mouthful and chew very slowly. Notice the signals and stop eating when you feel full. Often the rushing reflects our way of being so slowing down with the food may help to calm down the body and mind too.
How to engage the senses with the Raisin Practice. The raisin practice is a staple foundational practice of a Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course to demonstrate how much more we notice and how much richer our experiences are when we fully engage our senses and pay attention. Click on the image below to listen to the guided audio, if you are allergic to raisins then pick another small piece of dried fruit or food-just not chocolate or you'll end up with messy hands!.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ―Hippocrates
Simply put, whatever you choose to eat, engage your senses and give 100% attention to the experience. In fact, engage your senses and be attentive to as many moments in your day to be fully present to life!
Congratulate yourself for fuelling your body and eat without guilt (remember the minstrels?).