indful eating is becoming an increasingly popular term in wellbeing circles – but what does it actually mean and how do you do it?
With its origins in Buddhist philosophy, mindful eating aims to reconnect us more deeply with the experience of eating and the good news is that it’s not a diet! The Buddhist concept of mindfulness involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you at the moment, without criticism or judgment. In relation to food, it’s a way of experiencing food more consciously by listening to the body and its hunger signals, paying attention to the flavours and textures of the food and ultimately developing a healthier attitude towards eating.
A growing body of research suggests that mindful eating can have beneficial effects on weight and overall wellbeing. A study published in the journal Appetite found obese women who underwent a mindfulness-based weight loss intervention program saw declines in food addiction symptoms, binge eating and weight. Another study on binge eating found that mindfulness produced declines in binge eating and depression, plus the study participants derived more enjoyment from their meals and struggled less to control their eating.
Mindful eating requires some changes to attitudes and practices around meals and mealtime rituals. There isn’t a right or wrong way to mindfully eat, but rather varying degrees of awareness about what you are eating and why. The first step is to bring awareness to your eating by chewing slowly, noticing the colours and aromas of the food and savouring the flavours and textures. The idea is to tune into your body to eat when you’re hungry and not in response to emotions that can lead to eating for comfort.
You can be mindful about your eating in any environment
Not every meal will be eaten in the same place so it’s important to be able to apply and adapt mindful eating techniques in different environments such as at home, on holiday or at a dinner party. When in company, the conversation may be a little distracting so make sure to take a moment to tune into your body to analyse your level of hunger and any emotions you might be bringing to the table before you begin eating. Taking a couple of deep breaths can help you to tune in. Check in on your hunger again about half way through the meal do determine if you’re still hungry or eating for other reasons.
Eat just enough that you feel satisfied
You do not have to finish everything that’s on your plate and for some people this will mean creating a new behaviour. To help create this change, practice checking in every so often throughout the meal to assess if you’re still hungry. If you are still hungry, keep eating but if you're starting to feel full then definitely stop! The ideal stage to stop eating is when you're satisfied and could have another bite or two, or when you’re about 80% full.
Even snacking can be mindful
Mindlessly eating a snack straight out of a box or packet can be a recipe for disaster. Get into the habit of always placing the snack (the total amount you plan to eat) on a plate. This makes you acknowledge how much you will actually be eating and helps you continue to bring mindfulness to everything you eat.
Turn off all tech
You’re more likely to mindlessly eat when you’re distracted by technology like watching TV or working on your laptop. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that being distracted by technology and not paying attention to a meal tended to make people eat more at that meal, while paying attention to the meal was linked to eating less later on.
Keep a food journal
Keeping a food journal is not about counting calories but for bringing more awareness and mindfulness to what you eat and how it makes you feel. Write down what you eat and how you feel immediately afterwards, as well as an hour or two later. This will help you understand what food works for you and what doesn’t. For example, if a sandwich for lunch leaves you feeling sluggish and foggy brained within a couple of hours, you can use this awareness to help you improve your diet.
Yours in natural health,
Always consult your healthcare professional before commencing a new dietary or exercise regime, before using any supplements and before making any changes to prescribed medications.